By / Oct 7

What is your immediate reaction when you see something that is broken? When I see something broken, I want to fix it — whether it’s a household object, a relationship, or a community. I want to jump in and start solving the problem. It’s like that broken thing was just waiting for me to come in and save the day. 

But what if the “broken” thing I see isn’t actually broken? Or what if I’m not the one to fix it? 

These are the kinds of questions that Jeff Palmer forces us to ask ourselves in his book So You Want to Dig a Well in Africa?: What You and Your Church Need to Know About Mercy-oriented Missions Palmer has served in international missions and development work for more than 30 years. During that time, he has used his background in agriculture to help people in over 60 countries with things like food security, clean water and improved health. His book, though, is not really about digging wells, and it’s not really about Africa. Rather, it’s about how Christians (and the Church) approach mercy-oriented missions.

The world is full of needy people

The world has always been full of needy people, and it always will be until the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1). In this digital age in particular, we feel the weight of the neediness of the world more than ever before.

We see Facebook ads telling us that every child deserves a pair of shoes, so we give. We hear stories of families in need around the world, and we give. And the more we are exposed to a world in need, the more resources we pour into overseas projects.

The average church member has more opportunities now to experience cross-cultural missions and see others’ needs first hand. We see lifestyles that are so different from anything that we’ve experienced in the West, and we think that those different communities must be broken and in need of repair.

But what if before we tried to fix the brokenness and heal the neediness, we first looked at our own brokenness? What if we first recognized our own neediness and complete dependence on God? What if people living in different circumstances than us really aren’t any more broken than we are? 

Locals aren’t depending on you

Is it possible that we’re not as necessary as we think we are?

There are a lot of people in the world who have been living in need for generations. You may be able to be a part of their solution, but as one local believer addressing a group of outsiders said, “They are not waking up every morning and mentioning your name” (31).

Throughout the book, Palmer reminds readers of both the dignity (and brokenness) of those in need and the brokenness (and dignity) of those who have much. Both “sides” have something to give and something to receive. 

Solutions that heal

When we do discover needs in the world that we are positioned to address, we must be careful to address them in ways that actually bring healing and not more hurt. Through stories, examples, and prodding questions, Palmer teaches readers to evaluate the difference between actually helping a community and just trying to make a community look more like ours — something we’re more comfortable with. 

When serving communities in need, missions teams must prioritize the dignity of their neighbor and the sustainability of the solution. As Palmer points out in the book, Jesus gave those in need the dignity to express what they were seeking. Consider, for example, when Jesus asked a blind man what he wanted Jesus to do for him (Matthew 20:32). Palmer calls on believers to serve as Jesus did, allowing compassion to move us to action that honors our neighbor more than ourselves.

There are many ways that we can do this, and Palmer spends the majority of the book helping readers decipher myth from truth when it comes to serving those in need with dignity and then looks practically at what successful mercy-oriented missions programs look like.

While there is no one right answer for every need in every community, Palmer says that involving the community in the quest for long-term solutions to long-term problems is crucial. He describes outsiders as catalysts and local people as the ones who discover their problems, prioritize them, design their solutions, and implement their plans.

Palmer walks readers through a journey of considering (and hopefully understanding) how solutions that begin and end with the local people are both dignifying and sustainable after outsiders leave.

Why we help

If I’m broken and needy myself, if locals need to be the ones to create and carry out sustainable solutions, and if they’re not depending on me, then how come Palmer’s book didn’t talk me out of engaging in mercy-oriented missions?

Palmer concludes the book by reminding readers that helping communities in need gives us access to those who have never heard the gospel, empowers local churches to be on mission with God, and leads to international gospel proclamation. But we have to ask ourselves hard questions to make sure that these things are true of our mercy-oriented missions and that the people we are trying to help really want and need our help.

Mercy-oriented missions are for the good of people and the glory of God. So we pray for discernment, asking God to lead us and open our eyes and ears to the opportunities to meet needs and make his name known.

Whether a pursuit of mercy-oriented missions is intimidating to you or makes you feel good about yourself (or something in between), Palmer’s book invites you to consider weighty questions about the how and why behind your missions engagement. May our mercy-oriented missions always be for the glory of God.

By / Oct 4

God calls the local church to tangibly love and support their communities and Send Relief is enabling them to do so in a radically important way. The ministry, a collaboration of the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board, aims to partner with local churches to equip them with the finances and supplies necessary to help those affected by a disaster or crisis. 

Send Relief and natural disasters

Right now, that means an intense focus on New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Ida and preparation to help resettle thousands of Afghan refugees who have recently arrived in the United States. 

Relief from Hurricane Ida requires immediate attention, and there were 18 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief sites that coordinated responses across southern Louisiana and the Northeast. Basic necessities like food, water, and generators, along with resources for temporary roofing and mold remediation comprise much of the current need. 

In response to Hurricane Ida in Louisiana and the Northeast, Send Relief has supported the efforts of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. Together, they have already tallied nearly 750,000 meals, 21,124 volunteer days, and volunteers have provided recovery work for approximately 1,700 homeowners. With two crises on their hands, they’ve been working overtime to ensure they are also prepared for the many Afghan families who will require assistance as we welcome them to the United States. 

Send Relief and refugees

Send Relief is not only focusing on natural disasters, but humanitarian crises that are international in scope and domestic in their implication.

“Southern Baptists are clearly being moved by the crisis in Afghanistan,” said Josh Benton, vice president of Send Relief’s National Operations. “They want to be prepared to serve Afghan families and share the gospel with them.” 

Thus far in 2021, hundreds of churches and individuals have given money, signed up as resettlement host homes and registered for training to help in a variety of ways. People appear to be eager to “carry each other’s burdens” -— as Christians are directed in Galatians 6:2. Send Relief is there to tangibly activate that desire. 

One of the most interesting opportunities is a chance to receive personalized coaching in evangelism, discipleship and cross cultural awareness from an Afghan refugee expert. Send Relief is also offering workshops on refugee care, as well as PDF downloads, video guidance and resources on ways to specifically pray for refugee ministry. 

The massive influx of refugees offers Christians across the nation an incredible opportunity to show love to the stranger and welcome them with open arms. Armed with the support of organizations like Send Relief, churches are paving the way for authentic Christian hospitality to envelop our Afghan friends. Such generosity and hospitality is key to the flourishing of the gospel in times of desperation. 

Partnering with Send Relief

For Southern Baptists seeking to engage the work of Send Relief, there are a number of ways to get involved. As for the Hurricane relief efforts, the best way to partner immediately is through a monetary donation. Physical needs are a priority right now. These physical needs, and the donations of Southern Baptists to meet them, provide an avenue for Send Relief volunteers and workers to meet spiritual needs. Regardless of the disaster at hand, Send Relief keeps the gospel at the forefront of what they call “compassion-focused ministries,” -— prioritizing evangelism within the meeting of physical needs. 

“[We] seek to meet the real and felt needs of people and communities,” said Benton, “So that the gospel can be proclaimed and a connection [made] to a local church.” 

There are arms and focuses that go beyond just disaster relief or immediate crises. Send Relief also has ministry locations planted to help those escaping from sex trafficking and families involved in foster care and adoption. They also provide clean water, education and medical care where it is needed most. 

With such a vast immersion into communities nationwide, it is clear that God is accomplishing much through the work of Send Relief. 

By / Sep 28

When news from the Middle East and Near East regions of the world begin to fill my screen, there’s one reporter that I want to read: Mindy Belz. 

I’ve known about her work as an editor and war correspondent with WORLD magazine for over 15 years, but her 2016 book, They Say We Are Infidels, was instrumental in shaping the way I understand this part of the world, revealing its rich Christian history. Her relationships with international churches and believers have provided her decades of insight into these predominantly Muslim parts of the world. 

As Christians in the West consider today’s international crises, as well as reflect on the impact of 9/11 20 years ago, Belz shines a light on both the histories and cultures of these far-off nations, shares her reasons for going into hard places, and points us to the eternal things that should guide our lives.

Jill Waggoner: Can you help us zoom out and understand the cultural landscape of the Middle East and the significance of Afghanistan?

Mindy Belz: Afghanistan commonly gets lumped into the Middle East because of the wars after 9/11, but it’s technically considered part of the wider Near East or Central Asia. That’s important, because Afghanistan is somewhat of a bridge. It has a lot of the Islamic elements that have bedeviled the United States and the Middle East (in Lebanon with Hamas and Iraq with al-Qaida and ISIS). But it also has this history of being under the thumb of the Soviet Union. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and subsequent occupation set the stage for the American engagement there. It began as a Cold War engagement, and then it moved into what we know today, an engagement over terrorism that had its base in Afghanistan. That history is significant to how it came onto the American radar, but of course, 9/11 propelled it there to stay. 

I traveled to Sudan in 1998, 1999, and in June of 2001. Sudan was engaged in this war that pitted Christians in the South versus Muslims in the North. It was a precursor to what we would see after 9/11. Christians have been like a footnote in these conflicts, and yet, to me, they were an important piece because what Christians experience is often a precursor to what the entire population is going to face. When we look at the war that was happening in Sudan in the 1990s, we see this dramatic and atrocious conflict between a jihadist government in the North and the Christian population in the South. That set a pattern for what we saw repeated in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, where this concept of “conquering infidels” came into play with really deadly force. 

JW: How did 9/11 change U.S. engagement in this region of the world?

MB: It had been a Cold War engagement up until that point, very much based on our national interests in keeping dominance over the Soviet Union, Russia, and its breakaway republics after the fall of the Berlin Wall. 9/11 changed it dramatically because then it became about U.S. survival. It was an attack on the U.S. homeland. Nothing like that had happened in modern memory. It was no longer war at a remove; it was war up close. 

Significantly, that moment built on the Cold War alliances. NATO, within days after 9/11, invoked Article 5. This was the first time in its history, putting NATO on a war footing in support of the United States. Among the victims of 9/11, there were more than 90 nations represented. We had tremendous international support for our response to it.  

JW: How would you help a younger audience think about 9/11?

MB: 9/11 is possibly the largest event of the century and certainly one of the landmark moments in U.S. history. 

It is important to go beyond the headlines and the 10-minute recap you see on the news. You can visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum site or go to the museum and see the names. It’s such a powerful reminder of the ordinariness of the people who died. They had no intention of stepping into a war zone when they were going to work that day. I would encourage anyone to read some of the original sources on the 9/11 Museum site. Find the 911 calls on YouTube. Not everyone wants to go down that road, but I think it’s valuable to get a real sense of what people went through.

It is also important to generally appreciate what the terrorists’ goals were. I’ve had the 9/11 Commission Report on my shelf at the ready for years. It is a thick book, but mine is so well thumbed now. Parts of it read like a novel. It helps you understand all the players and what was happening from the FBI, CIA, and military standpoint. You understand what was happening in Washington and New York. It describes what ​​al-Qaida was planning and the hijackers’ stories leading up to that day. Original sources are what we have to rely on, especially as we see misinformation surface. 

I’ve [also] really enjoyed reading about the millennials whose whole generation has been shaped by how our country changed after 9/11. I have much encouragement and hope as I see how many of my children’s peers committed themselves to military service or aide or nongovernmental organizations. When I covered the refugee crisis, I saw many 20- and 30-somethings that dropped everything to help these refugees coming across the Mediterranean. That defines the generation to me. I have great hope because of how this generation has been shaped by really sobering, hard events. 

JW: How would you encourage the Western church to think about and understand the Christian church in the Middle and Near Eastern parts of the world?

MB: I went to Iraq to cover the war early on and discovered the Christians along the way. There was this rich history there outside of what many think of as the Holy Land. I was going in churches that were built in the 300s. Their liturgy was in Aramaic. They were holding on to traditions because they were precious to them, not because they were following rote tradition. Everywhere I went, I was having my own presuppositions exploded. 

I met people whose resilience drew me to them. They had a patience about the Christian conflict with Islam and a determination about it that seemed to be lacking in the American public. The U.S. eventually wanted to turn away from the conflict and commitments in Iraq, as we are seeing now in Afghanistan. One of the reasons these wars have ended in such disarray and with such tragic consequences is that we never engaged them on the terms in which we said we were. We failed to understand that this is an age-old conflict. We failed to look at the really good examples of how people from outside of Islam have engaged with Islam.

On my journeys, I [saw] great examples of people coexisting and also being great witnesses, and in some cases being martyrs. The Old English definition of a martyr is a witness. They were being martyrs on a daily basis, and sometimes with their own lives, in order to stand and to give testimony to the Muslims that they lived alongside. 

JW: Recently, my 10 year-old son got in my car as I was listening to the news. He asked what it was, and I told him. As I turned it off he said, ‘Why are you listening to that? Aren’t bad things happening?’ I wondered how you would answer that question. In a world where ‘bad things’ are happening, why should we pay attention?

MB: Because the love of Christ compels us to. We can all have a sense of discouragement and helplessness in the face of any days’ bad news, but we know Christ came to enter into bad news, bringing life and the good news of the gospel. 

Our life in the United States gives us so much material comfort and grace that we lose sight of the consummation of all things. We might be tempted to think that the consummation is like our day to day: the sun shining, peace with our neighbors, a grocery store nearby. Our current reality dulls our sense that there is a future — where Christ is reigning and has reconciled all things under his feet — that is beyond what we can imagine right now. We can be tempted to lose sight of that chapter of the gospel narrative. I have a sense that the Christians who went before me had a much clearer view of what is to come that compelled them through the hard things of any day. 

JW: Many people have had trauma in the last two years. I imagine that your journeys have allowed you to see things that I’ve never seen, creating difficulties for you on a personal level that might extend beyond the experience. Do you have a personal word for those who are dealing with trauma? 

MB: It is definitely a real thing and something that I’ve struggled with from time to time. I have faced life and death moments. Because I’m still here after those moments, I can say they propel us to the feet of Christ and into the arms of God. 

Sometimes I dread going into a place where there’s a lot that’s unknown. There also have been times where I felt like I knew the situation, but when I was walking down the street, I could feel the tension and feel how much things had changed. This happened to me in 2019 in Syria, and I knew I was not in a safe place. Within 30 minutes, a bomb went off right across the street from me. I’ve been in moments where all I know to do is pray and trust that God has me where he wants me. That might be a place of death or a place of witness — seeing something that’s really, really hard. 

I come back to this fraternity that we have with Jesus. In those moments, we see in a new way what he endured, and what he was willing to endure, for us. We also see our own weaknesses and shortcomings. We’re brought face to face with the fact that we’re not Jesus. We quake and have fear and sometimes we run away, and that’s okay to do. 

The only way I know to process those things is in community. The community that I have with my husband, first of all, is the only reason that I have been able to continue this work — his support, patience, and willingness to hear the things [I’ve experienced]. Also, I process with my church community, pastors, and friends who are good counselors. We have to process these things in community, but we also have to process them as a way of recognizing our weakness and the profound sacrifice that Jesus made. 

By / Sep 22

Let’s start this chapter by admitting that we like to use hyperbole — extreme examples to clarify our points. We Christians may be particularly fond of it when we’re illustrating an important theme of the gospel, such as forgiveness.

Is hyperbole bad? No, Jesus used it (Matthew 5:27–30). Can it be used poorly? Yes. But before we get to the problem, let’s consider the purpose of illustrations. We use illustrations to make points clearer. If illustrations don’t make our point clearer, then they’re not good illustrations — they’re distractions. Sometimes this just results in ineffective teaching. Other times, it can be harmful to those being taught.

Imagine a father explaining forgiveness to his son. He uses the illustration of when his wife (the child’s mother) forgave him for having an affair. The dad may be making theologically rich, well-articulated, and skillfully applied points about forgiveness. But the illustration is a distraction. All the kid can think is, “Are my parents getting a divorce? Are we going to have to move?”

This is what we frequently do when we use criminal or traumatic offenses1Most offenses that are criminal are traumatic, but not every offense that is traumatic is criminal. What needs to be understood here is that criminality (legal process) and traumatic nature (healing process) of recovery from hurts of these kinds are different from normal day-to-day offenses. as illustrations of what it means to forgive. When we recount the testimony of someone who has been raped, beaten, or similarly offended forgiving the person who abused them, we are putting every survivor who hears us in a comparable position as the son in the illustration above.

When, in a ministry context, we talk about someone forgiving their rapist, we are not providing legal or counseling advice on how to respond to the experience of rape. When we give an example of someone forgiving an abusive spouse or parent, we don’t explain what happens when you call Child Protective Services (CPS) or how to make a safety plan.2For guidance on how to pastorally care in these situations, consider lessons 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 at https://churchcares.com But because survivors only hear their experience discussed in church as an illustration of forgiveness, they begin to think “just forgive” is the only guidance God has for them.

A good rule of thumb is don’t use these kinds of illustrations if you do not have the training or time in your sermon/lesson to provide substantive guidance on how to respond to a criminal or traumatic experience. If we are going to use illustrations of this emotional weight, we must be willing to devote the time the subject matter requires. It is pastorally irresponsible to do otherwise.

Illustrations with criminal offenses

When using an illustration or testimony involving a criminal offense, the following points would need to be made (this list is representative, not exhaustive):

  • It is right and God-honoring to report such an offense to the authorities (Romans 13), that is, the police.3If you want to understand more about how Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 6 harmonize with each other, consider reading “Why Is It Inappropriate (and Dangerous) to Alert an Alleged Offender of Abuse before Calling CPS and/or the Police?,” bradhambrick.com, April 16, 2019. 
  • If children are not involved and the thought of reporting is hard, it is wise for a survivor to talk to a counselor experienced in working with abuse/rape survivors because these are legitimately difficult decisions.
  • Choosing to pursue legal action against criminal activity is not an expression of bitterness or unforgiveness.
  • Forgiveness is one part, and usually not the first part, of the healing journey after the experience of abuse or rape.
  • When you reach the point that forgiveness is the next part of God’s healing process for you, forgiveness does not mean trusting or placing yourself in the position to be vulnerable again. If the person who hurt you demands trust or leverages the Bible against you, they are continuing to be abusive.

These points take time in a sermon or lesson. Admittedly, they steal the thunder from a point about forgiveness. But realize, without these clarifications, the “thunder” of your message will be haunting to someone who has not had the opportunity to process their experience.

Illustrations with traumatic experiences

When using an illustration or testimony involving an offense that is traumatic, the following points would need to be made (this list is also representative, not exhaustive):

  • Painful memories are not the same thing as bitterness.
  • Hypervigilance after a traumatic experience is not the same thing as a lack of faith.
  • Flat emotions after a traumatic experience does not mean you’re unloving, apathetic, or not worshipping.4If you are unfamiliar with the common symptom clusters that frequently emerge after a traumatic experience, consider watching step 2 in this resource on trauma: “Post-Traumatic Stress (Seminar Videos),” bradhambrick.com, September 25, 2015
  • Seeing a counselor experienced in working with trauma survivors can help a survivor learn to manage the emotional fluctuations that often occur after a trauma.
  • Forgiveness does not erase memory. For offenses that are disruptive when remembered, Miroslav Volf’s book The End of Memory can be a helpful discussion of forgiveness.

Again, these kinds of points do break the momentum of your sermon or lesson. But to the person who has experienced the kind of things you are using as an illustration, that “momentum” feels like an avalanche. To the person who is learning to manage their trauma, slower is safer. If we are going to speak of their life experience, then we should do so with the tenderness that experience requires.

This chapter forces us to consider again where we began this book — forgiveness means someone has been hurt. Criminal and traumatic offenses mean that there are more consequences to this person’s pain.5If you are prone to the rebuttal, “But aren’t we all equally sinful? Criminal sin doesn’t need to be double-dipped in the blood of Jesus, does it?” I encourage you to read “We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic,” bradhambrick.com, October 13, 2017, http://bradhambrick.com/we-are-equally-sinful-we-are-not-all-equally-broken-or-toxic/.  We need to take this into account when we teach on or talk about forgiveness.

Considering these things, take a moment to read Psalm 23:1-4:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (emphasis added)

Why did I choose to emphasize the word walk? It is a pacing verb. It reveals the pace at which the Good Shepherd is willing to go. The Good Shepherd moves at the pace that is best for the sheep. The scary setting — the valley of the shadow of death — does not rush the pace. The health and ability of the sheep set the pace. Sheep with a limp traverse the valley more slowly.

If we are going to be accurate ambassadors of the Good Shepherd, we must prioritize our ministry efforts the same way. We cannot let our zeal for the destination cause us to harm the sheep who have been entrusted to our care. That is what this chapter has been about: helping us pace our illustrations about forgiveness to the needs of those who have been hurt.

Questions for reflection

1. When have you seen an illustration become a distraction? If it was around a sensitive subject, how did it detract from the care agenda of the person teaching?

2. How does the pacing verb “walk” of the Good Shepherd help you understand the pastoral significance in discussing criminal and traumatic offenses in the holistic manner recommended in this chapter?

Excerpted from Making Sense of Forgiveness © 2021 by Brad Hambrick. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit newgrowthpress.com.

  • 1
    Most offenses that are criminal are traumatic, but not every offense that is traumatic is criminal. What needs to be understood here is that criminality (legal process) and traumatic nature (healing process) of recovery from hurts of these kinds are different from normal day-to-day offenses.
  • 2
    For guidance on how to pastorally care in these situations, consider lessons 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 at https://churchcares.com
  • 3
    If you want to understand more about how Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 6 harmonize with each other, consider reading “Why Is It Inappropriate (and Dangerous) to Alert an Alleged Offender of Abuse before Calling CPS and/or the Police?,” bradhambrick.com, April 16, 2019. 
  • 4
    If you are unfamiliar with the common symptom clusters that frequently emerge after a traumatic experience, consider watching step 2 in this resource on trauma: “Post-Traumatic Stress (Seminar Videos),” bradhambrick.com, September 25, 2015
  • 5
    If you are prone to the rebuttal, “But aren’t we all equally sinful? Criminal sin doesn’t need to be double-dipped in the blood of Jesus, does it?” I encourage you to read “We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic,” bradhambrick.com, October 13, 2017, http://bradhambrick.com/we-are-equally-sinful-we-are-not-all-equally-broken-or-toxic/.
By / Sep 2

As the United States departed from Afghanistan, there remains an urgent humanitarian crisis in the country, both for the U.S.’s Afghan allies and those fearing persecution from the Taliban.

Chelsea Sobolik welcomes Matthew Soerens, the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief to discuss how and why Christians can serve Afghan refugees who qualified for the Special Immigrant Visa Program and the Refugee Resettlement Program.

Guest Biography

Matthew Soerens is the U.S. Director of Church Mobilization for World Relief, where he helps evangelical churches to understand the realities of Afghan refugees and immigration and to respond in ways guided by biblical values. He also serves as the National Coordinator for the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition that advocates for immigration reforms consistent with biblical values.

Matthew previously served as a Department of Justice-accredited legal counselor at World Relief’s local office in Wheaton, Illinois and, before that, with World Relief’s partner organization in Managua, Nicaragua. He’s also the co-author of Seeking Refuge: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis (Moody Publishers, 2016).

Resources from the Conversation

By / Sep 1

Filder Hilaire was a schoolteacher before being called to something different. Born in Haiti, he has experienced much of the challenges the country offers. Filder lives as most Haitians do, without much physical provision; however not dissimilar to his fellow countrymen, he maintains a joyful spirit and a persevering work ethic which is unexplained outside of the love of Christ.

Nine years ago, Filder began work helping families adopt through Lifeline Children’s Services. Since that time, he has become an attorney and now serves our families through the legal side of their Hatian adoption journey. Over this time period, he has helped dozens of children find a family who will be theirs forever. 

Filder’s spirit of hope, rooted in the gospel, has helped many Haitian and U.S. adoptive families through unspeakable hardship. Filder is not unlike so many other Haitians — living in a land where 90% of the families are consistently vulnerable to natural disasters and 60% live in abject poverty. These realities came to bear for Haitians in southwestern Haiti after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake killed over 2,200 people, injured 10,000 more, and destroyed 50,000 homes earlier this month. These hardships and emotional and physical damage were immediately compounded by Tropical Storm Grace last week. 

Filder and his family were not immune to the crisis as his wife’s family lost everything they had in this latest earthquake.

While much of the world’s eyes are rightly on Afghanistan and the refugee crisis that has resulted, we must not overlook the immediate suffering in Haiti — a people with an indestructible spirit but who have experienced tragedy upon tragedy as of late and over their turbulent history.

We can’t forget the devastation in Haiti in the midst of the continued spread of COVID-19, the global supply chain crisis, the heat waves and wildfires, and the ever-growing food and housing insecurity ravaging countless poor nations. To all of these areas which Haitians face, there seems no end.

We must remember that Haiti is not beyond the notice of God. His reach is long to heal and help a people who are kind and joyful, even in the most difficult of circumstances. They are endearing and resilient even as they fight disease, unemployment, violence, lack of healthcare, and all other sorts of grave challenges; however, many Haitians lack the greater hope which Filder has because of the gospel. 

Showing generosity to the people of Haiti

Lifeline Children’s Services has facilitated more than 60 adoptions in Haiti — it is a nation that we love dearly and that we want to impact with both immediate help and the enduring hope of the gospel. International adoption is the most appropriate way to live out God’s heart for the sanctity of life and human dignity for some children, but we also must be involved with addressing the root issues that lead to family displacement. 

I want to be like my brother Filder —marked by a joyful spirit and a persevering work ethic flowing from Christ’s presence in his life. We have much to learn from him and many others in Haiti. But for now, we also must help them. 

Like the early church, we want to be people who give sacrificially of all God has given to us: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 2:32). Whether in a local context or as part of the global body of Christ, our call is bent toward generosity.

What does this look like? 

  1. Financial generosity. Thousands of people in Haiti now lack basic needs of food and home supplies. They are facing insecurities on a level not seen in years. There are wonderful Christian charities who are on the front lines of meeting financial and nutrition needs like our friends at SEND Relief, World Vision, Compassion, and Samaritan’s Purse.
  2. Emotional and spiritual generosity. Haiti may be hundreds or thousands of miles away from many of us, but we are one church body suffering under the realities of a hurting world. Spend time reading about the crisis and the people of Haiti as a way to open your heart to a people of both joy and sorrow. Spend time lamenting with our brothers and sisters, but also fervently praying for them and with them. Remember them in your prayers and ask God for his grace and mercy to be shown to those in Haiti.
  3. Relational generosity. There are Haitian immigrants all around us in America. Consider how you can develop relationships to support those who may have extended family and friends impacted by the latest crises.

At Lifeline, we have also established a fund to help those in Haiti who have lost everything. We are partnering with organizations on the ground to help those impacted by the recent disasters, providing necessary items to those in need.

Our omniscient God’s eyes are on Afghanistan and Haiti at the same time. And his eyes are on you and me to offer what he would like to give — joy-filled hope. Filder and countless others in Haiti will continue to show us what it means to work hard and work joyfully even during times of tragedy. But how much better it would be if we showed them that they weren’t alone even as other eyes are turned elsewhere?  

By / Aug 26

In the aftermath of the sudden, tragic fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban, thousands of refugees have been fleeing the landlocked nation to escape persecution and retaliation from the extremist group. Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of Southern Baptists, has begun the process of helping Afghan refugees as they resettle around the world by working with World Relief and other ministry partners.

Photos of packed aircraft and video of desperate Afghan people surrounding planes as they take off have captured the world’s attention in recent days. Those who served alongside the United States military in some capacity are among the groups in the direst situation, but there are thousands of others whose lives and livelihoods are now at risk because of the Taliban.

“We need to pray for the Afghan people as many are fleeing with nothing but the clothes they have on,” said Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief. “Any remaining Christians will be targeted. The women and girls who are left behind will lose the freedoms they’ve gained over the last 20 years. May the church minister to any refugees our government allows in who have supported American efforts or faced persecution there.”

Thousands of Afghan refugees are expected to arrive in the United States in the coming days and weeks, and World Relief — a global Christian humanitarian organization that partners with local churches to serve vulnerable populations — has 17 offices across the United States where they aid refugees who will settle there.

As churches seek to respond, Send Relief will provide training and materials to equip churches that want to serve refugees in their communities and connect churches with organizations, like World Relief, that will help make direct connections with refugee families.

Most refugees arrive in the United States and need to find places to live, figure out how to enroll their kids in school and purchase basic household and hygiene items. Many also need assistance with learning English. Organizations like World Relief often work with local churches to help meet some of these needs.

“We don’t view this through the lens of politics or even through the lens of the images coming out of Afghanistan right now,” said James Misner, senior vice president of strategic engagement for World Relief. “We view this through, and we respond through the lens of the commands of God in scripture—which tell us over and over again to welcome the stranger in need.”

Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s U.S. director of church mobilization and advocacy, also addressed concerns about the vetting process for refugees entering the United States with Baptist Press.

The U.S. government has, in recent decades, taken steps to ensure that those applying for refugee status receive background checks against several databases, according to The Heritage Foundation.

Afghans who provided assistance to the U.S., and are seeking to flee Afghanistan apply through a process called the Special Immigrant Visa program, a long vetting procedure that often takes more than two years to complete. Christians, women and other religious minorities are likely to flee the nation and seek refugee status in the U.S. or elsewhere.

Along with assisting in the refugee resettlement process in the United States, Send Relief also coordinates with international partners in resettling refugees in other nations around the world, helping those forced to leave their homes adjust to life in what is oftentimes a strange, new land.

To learn more about how you can give or serve refugees in this current crisis, visit sendrelief.org.

This article was originally published here

By / Aug 24

Last week, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans, Louisiana, upheld a Texas law prohibiting certain uses of an abortion method known as dilation and evacuation (D&E), a procedure “commonly used to end second-trimester pregnancies.” The law, officially known as Senate Bill 8 as it was being considered by the Legislature, was initially blocked by a “three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals” just last year but was granted a re-hearing by the full court at the request of the state of Texas. As a result, the law was officially upheld by the court.

The ERLC affirms the court’s decision to uphold Texas law and its prohibition of this inhumane procedure.

What exactly does SB 8 outlaw?

As recorded by Kevin McGill of the Associated Press, SB 8, first passed in 2017, is a law that “seeks to prohibit the use of forceps to remove a fetus from the womb without first using an injected drug or a suction procedure to ensure the fetus is dead.”

Stated differently, the intent of SB 8 is to outlaw what many in the pro-life community refer to as a “dismemberment abortion” from occurring in the second trimester of a mother’s pregnancy. In such dilation and evacuation procedures, children are forcefully removed from their mother’s womb with the use of forceps, resulting in the dismemberment and death of the child. The law, passed in Texas and upheld by the court of appeals on Wednesday, prevents these procedures from taking place.

It bears mentioning that this law is not a sweeping ban on abortion but a prohibition of a specific abortive procedure from occurring at a specific point during a pregnancy. And while more work is yet to be done to strengthen and expand pro-life legislation, this ruling is a common sense step to disallow a grisly method of abortion.

Can an abortion be performed safely?

Of the 14 appellate judges who heard arguments, nine ruled in favor of the Texas law. In the opinion, judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Don Willett said “the record shows that doctors can safely perform D&E’s and comply with SB8 using methods that are already in widespread use (emphasis added),” an opinion that, despite the majority’s favorable ruling, makes a confounding assertion.

Furthermore, Judge James Dennis, in his dissent, said that SB 8 “makes it a felony to perform the most common and safe abortion procedure employed during the second trimester (emphasis added).” 

These statements beg the question, can an abortion be performed safely? According to these opinions and others, the safety of an abortive procedure depends solely on the resulting health of the mother. While we always want to be concerned about a mother’s health, it is important to recognize that when an abortion is performed precisely the way it is intended, it necessarily results in the death of a person — the preborn baby.

By definition, then, a successful abortion is never safe; it is always fatal.

Reaction outside the court

Outside the court, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights and a critic of the decision, stated that her group “is analyzing the decision and considering all its legal options.” Northup went on to say, “At a time when the health care needs of Texans are greater than ever, the state should be making abortion more accessible, not less.”

On the other hand, Kimberlyn Schwartz, Texas Right to Life director of Media and Communication, praised the decision, saying, “Texans celebrate today’s long-awaited victory” and expressed gratitude at the court’s ruling. 

Obviously, the issue of abortion is a divisive topic within American culture, and the reaction to this ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is further evidence of that. The ERLC, in concert with Texas Right to Life and other pro-life organizations across the country, stands unwaveringly on the side of life.

What’s next?

Though this ruling is favorable to the cause of life, we can be sure that the ongoing work of protecting and preserving the lives of unborn children remains squarely in front of us. Texas’ SB 8 is a common sense measure that, to the extent that this law outlines, ensures the humane treatment of preborn children. The decision could be appealed and go all the way up to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, more robust protections are needed for these most vulnerable  children; protections that seek not only to disallow certain abortive procedures, but that further aid the cause of making abortion unthinkable. 

While we should continue the effort to strengthen and expand current legislation, the cause of life is an issue that will advance only as far as the collective conscience of our culture allows. The ERLC remains resolutely committed to working toward both the strengthening of legislation and the softening of hearts, for the cause of life and the glory of God. 

By / Jul 30


The ERLC has submitted an amicus brief in an important Supreme Court case that could affect the future of abortion in America. The amicus brief explains why the court should overturn Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), twin decisions that have prevented states from prohibiting abortion.  

“For too long, the Roe and Casey decisions have allowed our nation to turn a blind eye to the plight of those who have no voice,” said Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, ERLC’s acting director of public policy. “Our brief asks the Court to overturn those two cases and set a new precedent that respects every life. With each passing day, more and more people recognize preborn lives are worthy of protection. The Dobbs case provides another chance for the Court to come to that same conclusion and affirm the fundamental right to life.”

An amicus brief is a learned treatise submitted by an amicus curiae (Latin for “friend of the court”), someone who is not a party to a case who offers information that bears on the case but that has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist a court. The amicus brief is a way to introduce concerns ensuring that the possibly broad legal effects of a court decision will not depend solely on the parties directly involved in the case.

ERLC joined other religious organizations — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — in filing the brief in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The Supreme Court agreed this past May to revisit a previous decision “by reviewing a Mississippi law that would replace the ‘viability standard’ with a limit on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.” Viability refers to the stage of development at which an unborn child is capable of living, under normal conditions, outside the uterus. The viability standard is the primary justification for supporting federal legal precedents regarding abortion. Gerard Bradley, a law professor at Notre Dame, says, “the removal of the judicially created barrier of ‘viability’ could let loose a cascade of pre-viability prohibitions, and in due course test the hypothesis that there is no principled, coherent stopping point between removal of the ‘viability’ standard and flat-out reversal of Roe.”

The brief ERLC joined requests that the Supreme Court uphold the Mississippi ban and says the U.S. Constitution “does not create a right to an abortion of an unborn child before viability or at any other stage of pregnancy. An asserted right to abortion has no basis in constitutional text or in American history and tradition.”

The brief also points out that the state has an interest in protecting human life. 

“Government has many responsibilities. Chief among them is protecting innocent life,” said Brent Leatherwood, ERLC chief of staff. “How much more important is that responsibility when it comes to protecting preborn lives that cannot speak for themselves? Christians have long pleaded the case for America to recognize the inherent dignity of our most vulnerable neighbors. This case gives us another opportunity to do so. Until that happens, our nation will not be able to fully achieve that lofty goal of being a land that preserves life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every individual.”

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in this case sometime between October and April, and should issue a ruling next summer.

The ERLC will always advocate for life, in the public square, before the courts, and before Congress.

By / Jul 29

There has been a lot of conversation recently in Southern Baptist circles and beyond about the right way to fight against abortion. Perhaps you’ve heard about the debate over incrementalism or abolition. Essentially, those views represent two different camps within the broader movement of pro-life Christians seeking to end abortion. But before I dive into the specifics of each view, I wanted to say at the outset that both camps are comprised of faithful brothers and sisters who all share the same fundamental goal. In fact, even this current conversation about the way forward for the pro-life movement further reflects that the movement itself is a broad, diverse, and expanding coalition fueled by a passion to protect the unborn.

Abolition

The first thing to say about the abolitionist camp is that they are laser focused on the goal of ending abortion. And because of that commitment, abolitionists dedicate their time and energy to calling for the immediate end of abortion. Through their activism and advocacy, they support legislation — focusing largely on bills in state legislatures — that would immediately outlaw abortion if passed and signed into law. 

Additionally, abolitionists tend to oppose efforts to restrict abortion that fall short of abolition. And while they may do so for many reasons, a common refrain from abolitionists is that they cannot support laws that allow any lives to be legally aborted. Though I do not consider myself to be an abolitionist (for reasons I set forth below), I think their fierce advocacy in opposition to abortion plays a critical role in keeping the heinous and grievous nature of abortion before the eyes of the American public.

Incrementalism

In a sense, the incrementalism label is a bit of a misnomer. I’m not aware of a single person in the incrementalism camp (of which I consider myself a part), who would not desire or support the immediate eradication of elective abortion. Incrementalism doesn’t mean that one supports the slow destruction of abortion. Instead, it means that one embraces a comprehensive approach to ending abortion — one that leaves every tool and resource on the table to advance the fight for life.

Why incrementalism

At root, I consider myself an incrementalist for one simple reason: I will support almost any measure designed to save the lives of unborn children. As a Christian, I believe that every life is sacred and precious because every single human being is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). And as an image-bearer, every person deserves to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect. That certainly means that every human being has a natural right to life. Though I don’t love the label, I’m an incrementalist because I will support a whole range of efforts to save more unborn lives — up to and including the total abolition of abortion.

Another reason I’m in the incrementalist camp is that I believe abolitionism is morally right but practically wrong. I stand alongside every person in the pro-life movement in opposing the Supreme Court’s wicked and devastating decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in all 50 states. More than that, I lament and oppose every legal effort to further protect or establish abortion in the United States. But despite my opposition to these things, I recognize that short of civil war — which no one is advocating — the only legitimate remedy to the status quo is through our legal system. 

I respect the moral correctness of attempting to pass state laws to abolish abortion. But at present, if any state were to pass such legislation the federal court system would simply strike down that law as unconstitutional. And in effect, passing such a bill simply maintains the status quo. (I know some within the abolitionist camp predict more successful outcomes such as a cascade of states refusing to submit to the will of federal courts, but I am wholly unpersuaded that such scenarios represent even a remote possibility). 

Instead, I’m convinced that the best way forward is to gain every inch of ground we can. This is the long-held strategy of the pro-life movement. And it is working. That strategy includes things like heartbeat bills, partial-birth abortion bans, pain-capable bills, informed consent laws, waiting periods, and more. Each of these are tools the pro-life movement has employed to save the lives of the unborn. 

As Joe Carter has written, “Since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973 the [abolitionists] have made absolutely no progress, while the incrementalists have helped to save the lives of thousands of children. Over the past 45 years, incrementalists have helped to pass hundreds of laws restricting abortion, including 45 in 2018.” The fact is, there are men and women alive today — attending school, raising children, following Jesus — who wouldn’t be here apart from these “incremental” laws. Moreover, with a still freshly-minted conservative majority on the Supreme Court, it is possible that one of these incremental state laws may lead to the weakening or reversal of the Court’s dreaded Roe decision.

Conclusion 

Supporting incremental measures to reduce abortion isn’t choosing a morally compromised strategy over one that is morally pure. Rather, it is about choosing not to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. It is reprehensible that the abortion regime remains firmly ensconced in America’s legal and cultural fabric. And because it is, I continue to have a deep respect for those who are committed to seeing the immediate destruction of abortion in America. But even so, I remain convinced that the best and most serious effort to reach that goal is found in the comprehensive strategy of incrementalism that seeks to take every step possible to end the culture of death and secure for us a pro-life future.