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GRAPEVINE – When the things of the world crumble, people search for answers from beyond, creating an opportunity for Christians to share the hope of Christ with them, said presenters during Engage, a Baptist General Convention of Texas-sponsored evangelism conference.  Full Story »

GRAPEVINE – In order to fulfill the Great Commission, Christians must live their lives differently, according to featured Radical Engage speakers. Full Story »

SuziiI recall the illustrations of Gulliver’s Travels. They picture the massive body of Gulliver on the beach with swarms of Lilliputians tacking their spindly ropes to miniature stakes. Standing on the Capital mall last week, I felt as if the dormant body of American patriotism stirred, and with the movement of a single flank snapped the ropes of cynicism. If you were among those on the mall, the inauguration was an experience of awakening. It was an early dawn awakening of democracy to walk shoulder to shoulder (literally) with such a mass of diverse Americans and international guests who had also come from Kenya, France, England, Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Italy…and that was just on our subway car. There were moments of spontaneous singing as 5,000 of us walked in baby-step fashion for over an hour in the subway tunnels towards the exit. 

Pressed on all sides by humanity, the inaugural crowd was congenial and purposeful. To make the effort of distance, cold, inconvenience, perseverance, and expense was to say, “I know it will be hard.” We know the truth of “Yes we can.” It is the truth that no one can do it for us. The reference in Obama’s speech to the troops at Valley Forge was heard by the shivering masses on the mall much differently than by those in homes or offices. We were standing for 5 hours in the 20 degree weather, dusty field, stomping our frozen feet to keep warm. By the time he restated the lines of George Washington, two million of us not only heard it, we felt it. We were, in an instant of slight imagination, the troops huddling before General Washington, facing near defeat of the revolution – we heard the appeal to the enduring values of faith and virtue. Our presence was a prelude to the willingness to sacrifice for our country.

We gather in crowds as Americans, mostly for family transitions, entertainment, concerts and sports events. So it has been rare, but perhaps a renewing ritual, to join a pilgrimage for our country. This year we have been witnesses to that renewal. There are millions who stood in primary caucus lines through spring and summer nights. There are millions who stood and circled the block for hours on election day. We are a nation weary of being mere spectators. So the inaugural mall was a convergence reflecting these smaller, but potent, expressions. These regional phenomena came together as one – like two million slivers of metal filings drawn to a magnet. The magnet was not Obama; the magnet is what Obama is pointing to in the American soul. Love of country, pride of ideals and commitment to leadership for the good of humankind were thawed out from the cold storage of message makers, and there was a rebirth of patriotism in the faces and hearts of millions of inaugural pilgrims yesterday. 

One more picture: on our subway car a young family of two parents, two young children. The eight year old daughter in pink parka and boots points to a map and asks where they are going. The Dad points to the green rectangle and says “to the mall.” To her quizzical look he quickly replies, “It’s not a shopping mall. It is place where our nation has monuments to its greatest accomplishments and most important people.” What if, for eight year olds “the mall” means this?

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Helping World HungerThe fallout from a struggling economy is always manifold.  One the one hand, the demand for hunger and related ministries increases exponentially as people lose jobs and seek help.  One the other hand, those who are fortunate enough to keep their jobs tend to be a little more conservative with their resources because they are anxious about the future.  Both of these effects present challenges to the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger as the demand for funding escalates and the prospect of income weakens.

While we will surely have more needs to address in the days to come, the prospects for funds for ministry support need not be bleak or weak.  The Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger is a grass roots movement built on small gifts.  Because there are over 2,000,000 Texas Baptists and over 5,000 congregations, small gifts make a big difference.

Our suggested individual goal for 2009 is to give the cost of one meal once a month to the Offering.  If the cost of that meal is $10, for example, we as a denominational family would give a quarter of a billion dollars to help people in need.  That’s billion with a ”B”!  Just imagine doing that.  Imagine the lives that would be impacted, both by the ministries themselves and by the resounding stories of those ministries.  Imagine the gift of hope to people bereft of hope.  Imagine the witness to God’s amazing and loving intervention to those who thought God – along with everyone else – had forgotten them.

We can do all that with the cost of one meal, once a month.  Money we would hardly miss.  Just imagine.

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World Hunger Offering AdvocatesWorld Hunger Offering advocates all around Texas are stepping up and saying, “It’s unacceptable that Texas is the #1 state in America with families who live in hunger and poverty!  We want to do something about it!”

And indeed this Hunger Advocacy Team, led by Carolyn Strickland, 2009 First Vice President of BGCT, is doing just that.  Lay leaders, missions committee members, church staff, and pastors from Del Rio to Muleshoe, from Waxahachie to Abilene, are speaking out and making their churches and others in their area aware of the tremendous need that the World Hunger Offering is meeting not only in Texas but across America and around the entire world.

When the advocates were asked to contact three churches in their association, Charlie Whiteside of First Baptist Church Kilgore, said he would contact his entire association and three others surrounding it.  Bobby Broyles, First Baptist Church Ballinger, ordered 75 of the new Texas-shaped hunger banks and said he would send them with a letter to every pastor in his and one neighbor association.  Jeff Johnson, First Baptist Church Del Rio, went home from the meeting and formed his own hunger advocacy team in his church.  This week he is holding an all-day conference for this team with speakers informing attendees of world hunger issues in the area and how to restore communities at risk.

You, too, can be a part of this growing group of everyday Baptists who say, “Enough is enough!” The next Hunger Advocacy Team meeting will be at the San Antonio Baptist Association office, Thursday, January 22, 10:00 – 1:00. If you are interested in attending this meeting or advocating for the marginalized from any part of Texas, please call or email Joyce Gilbreath, 214-828-5172.

Addressing the question of why he feels God expects us to feed hungry people, Charlie Whiteside, a true friend of the World Hunger Offering, tells us, “We must meet physical needs first… an empty stomach has no ears to hear the gospel.”

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Substance Abuse Support

“Do something” is our focus in Substance Abuse Ministry.  In 2009, there are many options for your church to consider that can make an impact in the community that you live in.

On May 1, we will sponsor a state-wide training event for churches to explore ministry options available for substance abuse ministry.  This will be an important event for churches who want to begin a ministry or churches who are hoping to network and strengthen current ministries.

Recovery Sunday will be on October 18.  I encourage your church to put this important date on your calendar and begin to make plans to take a stand for drug free schools as a part of Red Ribbon Week and support congregation members who are going through recovery.

Also in the works this year, is a podcast that will be broadcast through ITunes and on the BGCT web page.  This will be an exciting opportunity to get information, tools and networking helps into the hands of youth ministers, churches and the community through a communication channel that is new and widely used by many groups in the community.

More CLC Resources…

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Public Policy Updates

The 81st Legislative Session Begins

On Tuesday, January 13, the 81st session of the Texas legislatures officially began. The Texas House of Representatives elected a new speaker, Rep. Joe Straus, III of San Antonio. While his election has been seen by most as a positive step for the House that will promote bipartisan cooperation and a more collegial atmosphere some observers are concerned about the new speaker’s record on certain issues.

Of concern for the CLC are his close ties to the gambling industry. His father, Joe Straus, Jr., is one of the founders of Retama Park horseracing track just north of San Antonio of which the new speaker is also an investor. Speaker Straus has already commented on his ties to the industry saying "I will not be involved in an issue, any issue, where my personal interests will be advanced," and that “As speaker, I’ll stay away from it … and not allow it to be a distraction or an issue.”

The CLC is pleased to hear these comments from Speaker Strauss. We will continue to fight against the expansion of gambling in Texas which will surely result in a net monetary loss for our local family friendly economy, prey on the poor and create expensive social costs associated with a rise in pathological gambling. In our current economy, any public policy that promotes and expands gambling as a responsible, harmless way for Texans to spend money would be foolish.

Watch your email inbox for more frequent public policy focused newsletters and alerts in the coming weeks.  The session will run for 140 days, until Monday, June 1st.

Gambling Bills Filed
According to our coalition partner, Texans Against Gambling, 11 gambling bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature, including Senate Bill 309 and House Bill 75, to legalize slot machines (or, as the bill calls them “Amusement Redemption Machines”). They are joined by House Bill 73 and Senate Bill 311, which clears the way for video slots or video lottery terminals (VLTs) by redefining what’s currently legal or allowed in Texas.  House Bill 357 would allow alcohol retailers to have VLTs, should they be legalized, on their premises. Read more information on gambling…

Sunset Recommendation on Juvenile Justice Agencies
On Wednesday, January 15, the Sunset Advisory Commission voted 6-5 to adopt a staff recommendation that the legislature abolish both the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and combine their function into one new agency, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.  The close vote demonstrates the controversial nature of this drastic measure. Chairman Carl Isett proposed several additional recommendations which seek to ensure that one function of the new agency, incarceration is not favored over the other, probation.

The debate over the best way to reform these two agencies will now move to the legislature itself which will have to pass a bill with the final orders for the agencies. While all agencies, advocacy groups and legislators involved in this process hope to improve juvenile justice services in this state, the dismantling and combination of two state agencies will generate a great deal of debate once the legislation is filed.

Adult Basic Education and Literacy Day at the Capitol
The Executive Board of the BGCT and a 2006 BGCT resolution emphasized the importance of re-entering and or finishing high school. The Christian Life Commission will be working this session to support an increase in state funding for adult education. The Texas Education Agency has submitted a Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) requesting an increase in funding from $7 million to $50 million. Such an increase is drastically needed and studies show a high return on investment for adult education and drop out recovery spending.  Texas has the highest percentage of adults without a diploma in the US. Over 6.5 million Texans need adult education services but only about 100,000 receive services.  Adult basic education improves two generations – children of adult education students stay in school.

The CLC is hosting a Literacy Day at the Capitol on February 12 with the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas. Join more than 300 adult learners in Austin. For more information please see the invitation… (pdf)

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