DALLAS – Victor Rodriguez, pastor of San Filadelfia Baptist Church in San Antonio, was elected president of the Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas in a close vote June 29. Full Story »

DALLAS – Buckner International temporarily is suspending travel of mission groups to the Central American country of Honduras in the wake of that country’s coup yesterday that removed President Manuel Zelaya from office. Full Story »

DALLAS–The Baptist General Convention of Texas launched an effort that would put free General Equivalency Diploma programs in its affiliated churches June 28. Full Story »

TBOWH Ministries for 2010: A Preview

During its June 4th board meeting, the Christian Life Commission approved the 2010 Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger project list.  One of the newly funded projects for 2010 is the Self-Sustaining Faith Farming Program in Nicaragua sponsored by the Miskito Missions Network.  The legacy of missionaries James and Viola Palmer’s years of holistic ministry in Nicaragua, the network serves the Miskito people, an indigenous population who live as subsistence farmers and fishermen in small villages in the lowland rain forest of Nicaragua and Honduras.  The Miskito live in close family units in small autonomous villages.  Because of economic hardships, many children do not attend school.  Health care is limited or non-existent in most villages; infant mortality is one of the highest in Central America; and life expectancy is among the lowest.  Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and the Miskito people are the poorest people in Nicaragua.  Children are the highest at-risk group because of inadequate nutrition and poor sanitary conditions.

The Miskito Missions Network has developed an agricultural training program to help teach sustainable agricultural development.  The result of six years of experimental farming and learning from the Miskito people themselves, the ministry begins with training pastors to train others in the community.  All aspects of the program are designed to address the problems of poor family nutrition and low agricultural productivity.  Key elements include: (1) soil improvement using organic composting, mulching, and cover crops; (2) crop protection using fencing; (3) five basic crops which contribute to family nutrition; (4) worm production as an alternative protein source for lay hens; and (5) egg production using traditional chicken breeds.  TBOWH funds will be used to purchase planting materials, tools, equipment, chickens, seeds, and worms.  The Self-Sustaining Faith Farming Program typifies TBOWH-supported development projects, which strive for cultural appropriateness, long-term sustainability, and indigenous collaboration.

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The world of politics and policy is a difficult and unforgiving landscape, especially if it is your home for ministry. There is a revolving door of people, seeking and using power. There is an ebb and flow of fluctuating rules and laws for each issue area. It is a challenge to create an effective and Christlike ministry so close to the corridors of power. The CLC responds to a wide range of issues as a reflection of our mission which has a scope too large and complex for any one congregation to effectively manage. Our goal is to be effective stewards of a framework of Biblical justice by taking that framework into the daily, constant rhythm of a legislative process. We train and learn to be involved in a large number of issues, but we are always amazed at the power of God’s grace to multiply our efforts which are simply our meager offerings to Him.

This session, sometimes the work was as big as the world. There are more slaves in today’s world than in the 1800’s and two of the major gateways for human trafficking are in Texas. Through the cooperation of the Attorney General’s office and Senate and House leaders, serious changes were proposed to balance an uneven system of laws for law enforcement and victims to construct a path to justice for human trafficking in Texas. As important as this legislation is, you would think that passage would be swift and inevitable. However, this critical legislation did not make it through the House and Senate in time for passage before a long stalemate over the voter ID bill held it up. Legislation in this situation is often referred to as ‘orphaned’ legislation – like an orphan, it must find a bill that it can be attached to and thus rescued, or it perishes because it does not get acted upon before deadlines force the bill to die. No bill is exempt from the pressure, even if the legislation remains important to its Legislative authors and sponsors, they are swamped with thousands of bills, many also orphaned.

The commitment of special people, like Shelton Green, a consultant for the CLC, was instrumental in getting human trafficking legislation rescued and moving. First, many things that the CLC is doing year round pay off: involvement in monthly meetings on the details of law enforcement implementation, coalition work discussing the needs of  nonprofits that serve victims as well as prosecutors who must match a county budget, close partnership with universities, churches and ministries addressing human trafficking. Although people from around the state may see the need to restructure Texas law to address human trafficking, caring is not enough for an orphaned bill, it takes action in tight places and often at odd hours to really rescue legislation. It takes someone going office to office, staff meeting to staff meeting to rescue the orphaned bill from the inevitable death by legislative confusion. I mention this to show the dedication of the people who work on behalf of the CLC in public policy. This kind of dedication comes from a calling to ministry and God given gifts for this work. And while they are doing the heavy lifting of tedious negotiations, Shelton and other CLC staff like him, are touching lives, modeling Christlike love and speaking to a partnership with BGCT churches and ministries.

This session, sometimes the work was an unexpected act of redemption and grace. Ever since the Texas Youth Commission scandals of 2007 rocked the headlines of Texas newspapers, the legislature has been grappling with how to truly restructure the juvenile justice system to make important changes addressing abuse, neglect and corruption. The CLC has been working alongside several coalitions and agencies that are sorting out reasonable and cost effective changes. Mastering the intricacies of Texas juvenile system are overwhelming in general, then add the recent events of abuse, neglect and corruption and it seems like the kind of issue you would rather stay a million miles away from….and many people do keep their distance.  This session competing legislative propositions were emerging, with bitter divides among stakeholder groups. This issue it seemed would require a sacrificial commitment; there would be no heroes or headlines.

Returning from the Peace Corps (Morocco) Samuel Gunter, a former CLC intern, joined the lead coalition for juvenile justice. It was great to have our dear friend Samuel at the table on these complex issues and his reappearance in Austin was the first of two vital supports for the CLC work. Then one Sunday morning, Patricia Pressley, a former probation attorney approached me from across the aisle at FBC. “Could you use some help at the CLC office?” Her knowledge and dedication have provided exceptional skill for an issue that just got more contentious and personal as the proposed bills and the entrenched camps started facing off House vs. Senate. There is certainly no shortage of admonitions in the gospels to pay attention to those in prison, but handling criminal justice issues will exhaust even the most dedicated advocates.

With the addition of Patricia’s contributions to the CLC team, and due to her testimony at committee hearings, our contributions to juvenile justice restructuring became more meaningful, effective and strategic. The added bonus of God’s grace was that she was in need of a place to serve as much as we were in need of her skill. We would praise her mightily for her diligence and attention to detail; she would say “What are you talking about? It was not special.” I am reminded of the same spirit of response in Matthew 25, when the sheep can’t even recall their good deeds, “Lord, now when did we see you in prison?” By all accounts the resolution to TYC was a tempest of legislative intrigue. Sadly, not all aspects of TYC restructuring are fulfilled, but major legislation was finally agreed upon and passed.

The CLC is a ministry of Texas Baptists. Like ministry in your church or on the mission field, God is constantly preparing the way for us in unlikely ways. This session He blessed us with people fitted for His kingdom work, like Shelton and Patricia. He opened doors of friendship and support from Christian brothers and sisters along the way. He sustained us when the winds of personal tragedy blew through the lives of our small staff. We are grateful to many of you reading this News that have prayed for and supported our work.

Each legislative session, we began our CLC staff meetings, intern orientations, consultations   and coalition meetings by reiterating three basic principles that guide the public policy work of the CLC:

  1. Be guided by Biblical rationale and principles of Christian ethics.
  2. Be honest about yourself, about relationships with staff and elected officials and about your stated positions.
  3. Be expertly informed and know your facts without a doubt.

On June 1, the 81st Texas Legislative session came to a close. On June 21st the Governor’s veto period expired. We expect a Special Session to be called by Governor Perry, perhaps as early as July this summer, but surely before the expiration of major state agencies in Sept. 2010.

We will be there in ministry. God willing.

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The 81st Texas Legislature came to a close on Monday, June 1. Overall, the Christian Life Commission was very pleased with the results of this session.  As is often the case, there was much business left undone in the final push to “sine die.” While more can always be done, in four major issue areas the work of the CLC and our coalition partners helped to create meaningful improvements to public policy.

Gambling – Not a single bill to expand gambling passed the Texas Legislature. With all the high paid lobbyists that the casino interest had at the capitol, this is a huge victory for Texas. We just don’t need casinos with their predatory, regressive business model and high economic and social costs here in Texas.
Adult Education – The CLC helped to secure a funding increase of $10 million for adult basic education and literacy programs in Texas. While this was short of our goal, with the budget situation that the state is in, this is quite an accomplishment.

Human Trafficking – Major human trafficking legislation passed this session. The state now has several new tools to do more to help stop this modern day form of slavery.

Healthcare – The “Healthy Texas” plan that passed this session provides small business owners and non-profits (including churches) with access to quality, affordable health insurance through a public private partnership with the state. The budget contains $35 million allocated for this program. The CLC will keep you informed as the program is implemented so that, if eligible, your church or business may participate.

A full report of the major bills that passed this session can be found in the “Ethics in Action” section.

Special Session – With several major pieces of legislation left undone, including “Sunset” bills necessary for state agencies to continue operation, Governor Perry called a special session to begin July 1. The legislature can only address the following three issues as requested by the governor: 1) the enabling legislation to issue bonds for highway improvement projects, 2) the extension of the authority for the Texas Department of Transportation to enter into agreements with private companies to build roads and 3) the reauthorization of five state agencies due to expire before the next regular session. The five state agencies that will be considered are the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Department of Insurance, the Texas Racing Commission, the Office of Public Insurance Counsel, and State Affordable Housing Corporation. The session can technically last for up to 30 days but the governor has been quoted as saying he anticipates it lasting only a few days. Should there be a stand-alone bill reauthorizing the Racing Commission, the CLC will be watching closely that it is not used as a vehicle for expanding gambling in the state.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our Austin office staff, consultants, and intern for their hard work throughout a long session. Special thanks goes to Julie Valentine, our ministry assistant whose constant presence, organization and communication helped to keep our team on track. Our lobby consultants this session greatly increased our effectiveness at the capitol. Thanks to Rob Kohler, Marshall Kenderdine and Shelton Green. Patricia Pressley provided great help tracking and researching all the criminal justice bills this session. Our intern was Reagan Reynolds who put in a great deal of time and effort with the CLC while finishing her last semester at UT. Congrats again on your graduation and best of luck on your LSAT and the law school application process.

Thanks to John Hall for a nice article in the Baptist Standard.

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A pastor in Del Rio wants to meet his community’s spiritual needs in a recreational way. Full Story »