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FORT WORTH – Anchorless, Danny was drifting. He coasted into a debilitating drug addiction that cost him jobs, his home and ultimately time in jail. Upon his release, he wandered the streets not knowing where he would find his next meal, safe place to sleep or a solitary member of society who cared about.  Drugs may have driven him to the streets, but trying to survive there killed his will to live.

“It’s like you don’t have any dreams anymore,” Danny Evans said of living on the street. “Society has just sucked you in and taken everything from you. You don’t dream, you don’t set goals, you don’t have no ambition anymore. It’s just about trying to make it day-by-day on the street.”

Having lost everything, Evans found himself at the front door of Union Gospel Mission, a Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger-supported ministry that serves roughly 75 percent of the city’s homeless through a variety of aid programs.

“They’re breathing life into you here,” he said. “They’re letting you know there is hope, there is life out there if you want it. Go out there and apply yourself and take the next step, there is a chance for you to make it no matter what you’ve been through in your past.”

He became one of the mission’s 325 residents, each of whom are attempting to get on their feet after falling flat for one reason or another. Through the mission’s connections, he entered a narcotics anonymous program and accepted a part-time job on the premises. Workers and fellow residents have pushed him to examine his life, make needed changes while encouraging him and keeping him accountable.

Danny’s enrolled in Tarrant County Community College and will begin taking classes this fall – one of several small goals he’s set for himself as he seeks to turn his life around.

“Without this mission, I don’t know where I’d be. Being out on the street is a tough thing for someone who’s never been there before. It’s stressful. And it can break you if you’re not strong minded.”

But Danny’s change is more than quitting drugs and going back to school. He credits this drastic change in outlook to a new relationship with Christ.

Sitting in the mission’s daily chapel service, Danny heard a minister preach on Psalm 40: “I wait patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

The man couldn’t have been talking about Danny more if he’d called him by name. God placed Danny at the mission, he said. There, Danny found God and embraced a relationship with Him, forever altering the way he viewed life.

“This was my rock,” Danny said. “I was just out there. When I got here, my life began to get stable. I began looking at life a different way.”

Danny admits he still has many steps before him until his life is how he would like. But when times get tough, he knows he has two places where he can turn – the loving people at Union Gospel Mission and a God who cared enough about him to send him there.

In 2009, Union Gospel Mission served about 247,000 meals. Leaders expect that number to increase 20 percent in 2010. For more information about the diverse ministries that are supported by the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger, visit www.texasbaptists.org/worldhunger, where people can also find promotion materials such as videos that can be used during services. To give online to the offering, visit www.texasbaptists.org/give.

Because you give, we are able to give back to those in need.

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On June 30, 2010, the Legislative Study Group (LSG) of the Texas House held a hearing to begin the discussion of the benefits and consequences of expanding gambling in the next legislative session. Representative Garnet Coleman chairs the LSG and at the outset reminded all those in attendance that the informal group of legislator’s goal is to consider policies from the perspective of the average, tax-paying Texas family.

Numerous representatives of the gambling industry were invited to testify and share with members what their particular form of gambling can bring to the state. Both Suzii Paynter and consultant Rob Kohler testified on behalf of the CLC. Mr. Kohler’s testimony highlighted the inefficiency of generating tax revenue from casinos by noting that, to produce a little over $1 billion from a casino, the public would have to wager nearly $52 billion dollars. Mrs. Paynter underlined the history of broken promises made in previous gambling proposals, especially from pari-mutual wagering, and pointed out that the entire state of Nevada only generates around $1 billion dollars in tax revenue. At the end of her testimony she asked the representatives: “If you don’t gamble, and wouldn’t use gambling to solve your own problems, why would you use it to solve the state’s problems?”

The legislators in attendance asked tough questions of the gambling industry representatives and, we believe, moved the debate in a positive direction by calling into question the outlandish promises of revenue. Many members seemed to be concerned with where and who the revenue would come from and the negative consequences that would come with increased gambling addiction in Texas.

On July 8, the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee of the House held a very similar meeting that once again featured many members of the gambling industry. The meeting appeared to be little more than a forum at which proponents of casinos in Texas could again air their lofty promises. A member of the state comptroller’s office had the only new information presented. The basic facts he recited regarding the scope of gambling across the country and the revenue generation in other states added a dose of reality to the otherwise rosy projections.

Lone Star Stewards

People of faith securing renewable energy leadership for Texas

At present, Texas leads the nation in wind energy production, but in order to further energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create sustainable energy options, and drive a new clean energy economy, we must continue to diversify our energy sources.  By doing so, Texans stand to gain thousands of jobs while simultaneously improving our environment.

In response to the need to support these economic opportunities for Texas, The Texas Clean Energy Coalition has launched an effort to identify and recruit new voices advocate for clean energy, energy efficiency and the economic development for Texas communities.  The Coalition will focus on competitiveness, economic development, job growth, energy efficiency and Texas’ energy leadership for the long term.

The Christian Life Commission and Texas Impact and are partnering together to encourage people of faith to join the effort. This new group of voices will be called the Lone Star Stewards. Forums will be held throughout the state in order to engage pastors, rabbis, imams and lay leadership in order to educate and motivate them into leadership in their local communities. Each forum will feature experts in both renewable energy and economic development as well as representatives of the local region and religious leaders. The dates and locations of the meetings are as follows:

  1. August 30, 2010 | Central Texas Regional Forum | McKinney Roughs, Bastrop, TX | 11:00am-4:30pm
  2. September 27, 2010 | North Texas Regional Forum | Brite Divinity School of TCU, Ft. Worth, TX | 2:00pm – 5:00pm
  3. October 25-26, 2010 | West Texas Regional Forum | Indian Lodge, Ft. Davis Mountains, TX | 6:00 pm October 25-breakfast October 27

Through education and advocacy, we can help make sure Texas remains a leader in energy in the 21st century. There is no registration fee to attend. For more information contact Charlotte Bumbulis or Julie Valentine or call 512-473-2288.

Texas Food Policy Roundtable

The Texas Food Policy Roundtable met on July 20, 2010 for our 3rd quarterly meeting.

The meeting was devoted to discussing and voting on legislative priorities for the upcoming 2011 legislative session.  Many of the Roundtable’s participating organizations were in attendance and shared their top policy ideas to address the problems of hunger, obesity, and access to nutritious food in Texas. Representatives of state agencies and elected officials were also invited to this meeting. The top policy priorities for the Roundtable will be determined by a democratic process and will be announced shortly. Our next quarterly meeting will be October 19, 2010. For more information on how you or your organization can be involved please contact Anne Olson and visit the Roundtable website.

:: Food Policy Affects All of Texas (pdf)

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“Once considered a private matter by western policymakers, religion is now playing an increasingly influential role – both positive and negative – in the public sphere.” This is the opening sentence of a major foreign policy report “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad. A New Imperative for US Foreign Policy.Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs.

Historically, US government leaders and foreign affairs professionals have considered  the light of the faithful  firmly under a bushel – at least  when they made decisions about public policy.  But as global connections are more interrelated and policies cross boundaries of culture and belief, the old paradigm of ignoring religious content and context is changing. Dialogue and nascent relationships have begun. Major universities, think tanks, government agencies, denominational representatives and worldwide compassionate ministries are coming together.

Religion has gone from being virtually ignored in foreign policy to being acknowledged. This is clearly stage one of a relationship and is accompanied by many of the same awkwardness of any new encounter.  If religion is being acknowledged in policy circles, the relationship is soon to advance to a process of more integration.  In the past three years, I have participated in several forums that bring religious and foreign policy leaders together.  Both sides are learning. The public policy folks are often strong on persuasion and information. The religious leaders are almost always trying to convey the diversity of religious interests and voices – there is no religious monolith in the 21st century either within religious traditions or among religious traditions.

One clear development is the inclusion of the study of religion and foreign policy at prestigious academic institutions. The level of analysis and the intriguing studies of religion and foreign policy are building a body of complex data and reference for current and future engagement.  As a result of its robust initiative on Religion and Foreign Policy, the Council on Foreign Relations convenes a group of religious leaders with leading policy makers to focus on specific issues and countries every summer.  The meetings have become robust and the reading list is growing as scholars add their important voices.

The next stages of engagement will surely be marked by more textured integration of religion and foreign policy. But when moving beyond curiosity and polite protocol to true engagement the defining questions for both the religious sector and the public policy sector yield powerful and complex responses.

At a recent consultation at Wheaton College, hosted by Bread for the World, the Micah Challenge and the Center Applied Christian Ethics, the topic was “Government, Foreign Assistance and God’s Mission in the World.” I am not sure I ever expected to see those topics  together on a dais, but the reports and reflections from mission leaders  and USAID program planners was unexpectedly robust. The consultation was guided by three questions: How do we understand the biblical and theological grounding for the government’s role in addressing global poverty? Why, should, and how can churches engage in the larger discussion of government responses to global poverty? How do we understand the church’s global poverty advocacy role in the context of God’s mission in the world?

The group of about a hundred evangelical leaders worked to articulate a position statement on Government, the Poor and Gods Mission in the World. It was valuable to articulate biblical and theological affirmations, and to begin to try to describe informed Christian engagement. Although the declaration is still a work in progress, it is clearly a discussion that needs to continue and my hope is that Texas Baptists can be an integral part.

Are you asking yourself about now, what does this have to do with Baptist Church, County Seat Texas? More than you think.  Do you send or support missions in other countries the world? Do you have a returning veteran in your congregation from Iraq or Afghanistan?  Are your church members relocating around the globe for school, work or for short term missions? What if the worldwide definition of religious liberty changed tomorrow to be only a position of anti-defamation? (no disparaging remarks) with no protection of free speech (especially for Baptist minorities)? Returning to the compelling report of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (opening quote) it asserts important patterns of the intersection of religion and foreign policy that will affect our future:

  1. The influence of religious groups is changing virtually every sector of society –politics, culture, business and science.
  2. Patterns of religious identification are changing worldwide. (For example: African nations are more than 80% religiously converted since 1980.)
  3. Religion is being transformed by globalism.
  4. Religion plays a role that government cannot and will not.
  5. Religion is being used to escalate tensions in many areas of worldwide conflict.
  6. The growing significance of religious freedom as a universal human right and the source of social stability.

“For God so loved the world” is still our call. The conference table of the 21st century has a chair marked for our participation.

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The Baptist World Alliance convenes our World Congress this week. Baptist Christians from more than 500 hundred countries are represented by the BWA. Among the very good friends that we will see are our mission partners from the countries supported by the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, India and the Philippines.

It is perfectly clear when standing shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters from this beautiful Baptist world family that God’s great kingdom mission is global and it is spirit led. As Texas Baptists, our international participation, whether through mission trips or in Congress of Baptist leaders, provokes an overwhelming feeling of stewardship. We are stewards of a great family of God’s people. As US Baptists we are also stewards of a wealthy, free, expressive church. These gifts are not universal nor or they to be lavished only on ourselves; our gifts are to be used in stewardship for God’s great kingdom and His family worldwide.

At Wheaton College, during the recent Evangelical Consultation on Government, Foreign Assistance and the Kingdom of God ( see my column) a group of about 100 evangelical leaders were convened by Bread for the World and spent several days listening, talking and intentionally framing some important principles about the intersection of our Christian witness, the relationship of the church’s missional efforts and US foreign assistance.  Here are some excerpts of that discussion.  Discussion that will surely be revisited and reflected upon this week at the BWA Congress

  • Christians in the United States and other northern and western countries are being changed as we listen to voices from the Global South and from multiple social locations in each country affected by interaction with western mission efforts and government policies.  In a spirit of humility we must always be open to new perspectives and corrections in our advocacy and service.
  • Church leaders have significant educational responsibilities in instructing their communities about the realities of structural injustice, the need for government responses of sufficient scale to address these injustices, and both the possibilities and the limits of government foreign assistance.
  • Christians must always live what we advocate. We realize that Western and US Christians are now called to a journey of lifestyle change so that our buying, eating, spending, and investing, and so on all bend toward justice for the world’s poor. Our advocacy has as much credibility as our lives.
  • The great growth of short-term mission projects among US Christians poses an educational and missional opportunity in this era. While legitimate criticisms can be offered of the actual benefits in proportion to costs of these mission efforts, with proper education and follow up these mission experiences can be used to expose an entire generation of Christians to the needs of the world’s poor and the complex challenges involved in addressing them well.
  • Communication advances now enable the global Church to function more and more as one truly global Church. That church is already involved every day around the world in meeting the needs of the poor. Western Christians must be in ongoing and respectful dialogue and conversation with their Christian brothers and sisters in the Global South. This is important both for Christian community and for shaping and informing our missions and advocacy.
  • We agree that Christian activity for and with the poor must remain an ongoing aspect of Christian discipleship no matter what governments do. We agree that even if church-related groups receive government funds to serve the poor we must never become subservient to government, and must be willing at any moment to refuse such funds if conscience requires it. However, we also agree that advocacy related to foreign assistance and other aspects of government policy is an appropriate expression of our Christian discipleship, and that partnerships with government are both possible and necessary under many circumstances.
  • There are sound foreign policy reasons rooted in national interest for why our government should give generously to effective foreign assistance programs. These are widely recognized in the United States government and among foreign policy intellectuals. As Christian citizens we are grateful to God that the interests of the state and the interests of the kingdom of God in this case coalesce. We know that this is not always the case, and that as Christians we will need to continue to offer our witness and do our work regardless of what governments and states decide to do. But we can work toward shared ends with groups who do not share our worldview, whenever this is possible.

Would you like to join this discussion? Let us know at info@christianlifecommission.com. Your voice is needed because the worldwide conversation is growing.

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DALLAS – To be a “Living Testimony In a Languishing World,” African American Texas Baptists were challenged to commit to sharing the hope of Christ with people who are lost without it, according to preachers at the African American Fellowship Conference July 13-16. Full Story »

FORT WORTH – Anchorless, Danny was drifting. He coasted into a debilitating drug addiction that cost him jobs, his home and ultimately time in jail. Upon his release, he wandered the streets not knowing where he would find his next meal, a safe place to sleep or a solitary member of society who cared about. Full Story »