Thursday
Feb132014

Documentary examines True Love Waits

NASHVILLE (BP) – After 20 years and millions of pledge cards, has True Love Waits had a positive impact and does it still matter?

A new documentary by LifeWay Films examines the history and future of True Love Waits. The international purity movement captured the national conversation in 1994 by covering the National Mall with cards from teenagers promising to remain sexually pure.

The documentary "True Love Waits: The Complicated Struggle for Sexual Purity," traces the story from the beginning to the present day relaunch, including the lives of individuals involved. Scott Mills, executive producer of the movie and manager of LifeWay Films, said the documentary unflinchingly deals with the reality of what began as an idea sketched on a napkin and exploded as an international movement.

"Millions of teenagers of the past two decades have made commitments to stay pure," Mills said. "Many have kept those commitments and at the same time many have struggled."

"We knew from the beginning we wanted to address the criticisms as well as the successes of the True Love Waits movement," Travis Hawkins, documentary director, said. "We knew viewers would see through any spin we put on the story. We weren't afraid to have an honest conversation."

The documentary, available on DVD Feb. 15, goes back to the cultural climate before True Love Waits. Many adults in America had given up hope that teenagers could refrain from sex, according to Richard Ross, a TLW co-founder.

"It was as if the big powerful people, the people that are smart, the people that are knowledgeable, are saying teenagers are out of control," Ross said.

In the midst of this environment, Ross and Jimmy Hester, then director of student ministry at LifeWay, created True Love Waits. Immediately, they saw it take off with students at Ross' church, Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Tenn.

It began to garner national headlines and amazement from many in the media. "They couldn't believe students would stand up and make statements about their beliefs about abstinence," Hester said.

To practically measure the success of TLW, Ross points to an unbroken increase in teenage sexuality from 1973 to 1993, after which it plateaued and declined for 20 years.

Hawkins said, "At the outset, I confess I thought of True Love Waits as dated and kind of irrelevant. I had no idea the kind of impact it did have."

The film also documents True Love Waits' impact in nations ravaged with AIDS.

"Before True Love Waits came to Uganda, one out of three adults was dying of AIDS," Ross said. "After True Love Waits, it's about one out of 10 or one out of 11, and the statistics are getting better by the day."

In the U.S., Susan Bohannon became a teenage spokesperson for the movement, appearing on national television shows and newspapers. At college, she struggled under the pressure of being one of the poster children for teenage virginity.

"When we conducted our initial interview with her, it was clear to me there was more to her story, but she was reluctant to share it," Hawkins said. "After a few conversations, Susan agreed to share the rest of her story. It took a lot of bravery on her part. Susan really illustrates how complicated the issue of sexual purity is."

Succumbing to the peer pressure and mocking of those around her, Bohannon had sex in college. She then felt emotionally numb and distant from God, she said.

"I felt very shameful about even trying to talk to Him or sincerely worshipping because I knew that I was so far away," she recalled, "but I wasn't sure how to get back."

To Clayton King, author of the curriculum relaunching True Love Waits, Bohannon's story exemplifies the need to return the movement to one focused on the purity found in Christ and how that plays itself out.

"I want people to know they are pure because Jesus purified them from sin, not because they have perfect behavior and have never had intercourse or looked at porn," King said. "The good news is that temptation, lust, porn, sex, shame and guilt are no match for the grace that Jesus offers us."

That resonated with Bohannon. "The message of True Love Waits is not about being a good person or being good or doing good things," she said. "The message of True Love Waits is about true love and no one displays true love better than Christ himself."

Mills hopes viewers of the documentary will be "challenged to talk to their kids about sex." He also would like to see it "build within students a desire to follow Jesus and recognize purity as a result of that relationship."

The time is right for the documentary and the message it proclaims, Hawkins said.

"Our students are facing greater challenges to their sexual purity than ever before," he said. "There's a lot of guilt and shame involved for those who have 'messed up.' It's an extremely personal issue, but it's got to be addressed."

While DVDs are available for pre-orders at LifeWay.com, customers can download a digital version now. For more information and to view a trailer for the film, visitLifeWay.com/TrueLoveWaitsFilm.

Thursday
Jan232014

How 'not' to do missions

Ramsey (top left)

Many churches and individuals across Arkansas recognize God’s call to reach the world for Christ, however, oftentimes acting on those convictions can be daunting. Eric Ramsey, president of Tom Cox World Ministries (TCWM) in Mountainburg, has some tips on “how not to do missions” which shed light and provide strategies for how you and your church can better execute the mission of God at home and across the globe.

1. The focal point is on the 'mission trip' or preconceived ideas

Ramsey said one of the biggest mistakes churches make when doing mission work is focusing too much on their preconceived goals and what they want to accomplish. Mission work is about reaching people with the message of Christ, and therefore, your church must focus on learning about the people that you are trying to reach and finding effective ways to do so, even if that means changing your original plans or tactics.

“Anytime the focus is ‘the mission trip’ or what you want to do it is not going to be a good experience. We have to always begin with, ‘Who are the people that we are wanting to impact with the gospel? What do they believe? What is their culture? What are their needs? What is it that we can provide to meet those needs and in meeting those needs take the gospel?’” said Ramsey.

2. Making ‘rice Christians’

While Christians should feel compassionate towards people who are poor and hungry, sometimes meeting physical needs can cause people to lose sight of the more important gospel message, which the action was meant to convey.

“We have to lead with the gospel. We cannot lead with medicine; we cannot lead with food … we have to lead with the gospel. And take medicine as we go, and take food as we go and be sure that the work that we do and the churches that we plant are reproducible in the culture,” said Ramsey.

3. Not making 'the Church' reproducible in the culture

“If we plant churches in such a way that those people in those cultures can’t reproduce ‘church’ in that culture the way that we planted it then there is no way that a church planting movement can happen,” said Ramsey.

“It is important to define what church looks like for that context. … As we make disciples we should let church emerge from gathering those disciples. Let them express their Christianity in a biblical way, but in a culturally appropriate way. And it is going to look much different than it looks in our culture.”

Ramsey said too many churches have preconceived ideas of what they want to do rather than attempting to convey the message that God has given them. He said the vast majority of Christians in the west struggle with removing themselves from their cultural religious mindset when on mission in foreign places, whether at home or abroad.

4. Not prayerfully considering where God is leading and preparing accordingly

Instead of deciding on a place that your church wants to serve, Ramsey recommends that churches “prayerfully consider” where God is calling them to serve. Once a church decides they are called to serve in a specific place Ramsey said that they should then do everything in their power to learn about the people and culture of the place that they feel called to go.

“Pray for that people group, learn about that people group, do all you can to try to determine what you can bring to the table what those people need and develop a strategy to take the gospel to them,” said Ramsey.

“Missions that does not include the communication of the gospel and the planting of churches is not missions,” he said.

Monday
Jan132014

Smartphones join fight to save babies

Brian Fisher (standing), co-founder of Online For Life (OFL), and Tim Gerwing, OFL vice president of technology, discuss demographics in their office in Frisco, Texas. In 2007 Fisher and a co-worker at Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida toyed with the idea of using the Internet and social media to direct women from abortion clinics to CPCs. On June 21, 2010, the first OFL baby was rescued and the number is growing daily. Photo by Rick Linthicum/Southern Baptist TexanBonnie Pritchett
Southern Baptist Texan

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) – "OnlineForLife: Center TX02 is speaking with someone considering abortion. Will you pray?"

The notification popped up on an iPhone and "Yes" is tapped, adding another intercessor in behalf of an unknown woman seeking counsel at an unknown Texas crisis pregnancy center. That the woman was even speaking with a life-affirming counselor can be credited to a simple yet underutilized tool in the pro-life movement: Marketing.

Attracting women to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) often requires a personal touch. A woman facing a difficult pregnancy may confide in a friend or family member. The prayers of a sidewalk counselor may be the last words a woman hears before entering an abortion clinic. But what if there were a way to direct a woman to a CPC before she leaves her home and simultaneously rally a national network of partners to pray for her?

"We're business guys, and we test things so we can maximize the number of babies we save," said Brian Fisher, co-founder of Online For Life (OFL), a pro-life nonprofit business.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Nov262013

Faith stirs Isaiah to persevere toward turnaround season

Isaiah Ross carries the ball during Woodland High School’s second win of the season. A member of Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Powder Springs, Ross played a crucial role in helping his team turn their season around this year. Photo by Skip Butler/Cartersville Daily Tribune. CARTERSVILLE, Ga. (BP) – For most of this season Isaiah Ross and the rest of the Woodland High School football team faced plenty of obstacles, with the first six games scheduled against the best in their region. 

A 27-3 loss to Villa Rica High School the first week of their season would be their best outcome. The Wildcats would go on to be outscored 206-0 during their next five Friday nights. A 49-0 loss Sept. 20 ensured Woodland its 15th year of not having a winning season in 16 years of existence.

"It was tough," acknowledges Ross, a senior at Woodland High School in Cartersville, Ga. He is a member of Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Powder Springs. "I was struggling and down on myself."

Things hit a low point Sept. 27 against North Paulding High School. Primarily a linebacker, Ross had moonlighted in the Wildcat offense as a blocking fullback. Against North Paulding he barely came off the field and carried the ball more in order to provide an offensive spark. 

A win would have been a long shot against the 3-1 Wolfpack, but it would have been equally as important for Woodland to finally score its first touchdown of the year, albeit a month into the season. 

Neither happened, as the Wolfpack pummeled the Wildcats 56-0.

"Of course, I wanted us to win in those first games," Ross says. "I wanted to have a winning season."

Isaiah Ross (left) poses with his family. Jon and Michelle Vernon, front, became Ross’ guardians in 2011. Ross shares how faith and family helped him lead his high school football team past a dismal start this season. The Vernons adopted Nick, 15, top, from Latvia in 2010. They adopted Ryan Vernon, 20, right, from Latvia in 2008. Photo by Paris Mountain PhotographyThat goal was no longer possible. Still, this was a team Ross saw as better than its record indicated. Losing had become contagious and so was the resulting self-perception. As the team's leader, Ross wasn't about to allow that to fester. There was still something to play for, he says.

"As those games went on, I wanted us to be about getting better and competing."

In other words, to never give up. 

A place to grow

A few years ago, Jon Vernon, an assistant football coach at Woodland, took note of Ross, an 8th grader at the time from South Central Middle School –- which fed into Woodland High School. Ross participated in drills with the varsity. Ross' physical skills were apparent enough, but something else caught Vernon's attention. 

"Isaiah has a glowing personality and is always smiling. People are naturally drawn to him," Vernon says. "What I saw about him, though, was his spiritual maturity."

Ross says that maturity began to develop early in his life. "I was saved in the fourth grade, but lived for myself. For a long time I wasn't growing as a Christian."

When Ross was in the seventh grade, he and his 12 siblings were placed under the care of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and were divided up among several foster homes. That time would have been tough for any kid dealing with his middle school years, but the concept of "family" is important to Ross, who describes himself as a protector, particularly of his sisters.

That summer Ross went to a church camp, where "God showed [him] a lot of things."

"Even through the storm you can find comfort," he remembers learning. "I felt I was being called for a greater purpose."

He continued to grow in his faith and became a leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) group at South Central Middle. Starting with a small number, regular meetings soon began drawing nearly 200 students, he says.

Vernon saw in the rising freshman something he wanted to help protect and develop. "I was concerned about how he would be discipled in a yet-to-be-determined foster family. I got to know Isaiah and after meeting with his foster parents and DFCS knew he wanted a permanent home. He was very mature for a 9th grader, so I talked to my wife about Isaiah coming to live with us."

In April 2011 Vernon and his wife, Michelle, officially became Ross' guardians. Vernon is still an assistant football coach at Woodland and co-leads the FCA chapter alongside head baseball coach Corey Gochee, a member at First Baptist Cartersville, Ga. Now in his new home, Ross' discipleship would continue.

That growth would be tested this season, one in which Ross had put so much emotional equity in helping to bring the Wildcats another elusive winning season. "Isaiah loves Woodland and wanted to contribute," Vernon says. "He was invested in putting in the work to turn around a mentality in the football program brought on by losing." 

Ross says, "God gave me a heart for my school. We'd faced a lot of adversity [the first part of the season]."

A few days before an Oct. 11 game against Paulding County High, Ross was asked to give a motivational speech at the pep rally. Like sons do when they want advice, Ross went to his dad. The conversation with Vernon kept coming back to perseverance. 

"I'd been reading in the Bible about pushing through obstacles and going forward," Ross says. "Philippians 3:13-14 says we should forget what is behind us and keep moving forward to our goal."

That message and Scripture reference was given to the entire student body, then as a reminder to his teammates before the game that night.

During the game, a fired-up Woodland squad went before a fired-up home crowd and promptly fell behind 14-0 to the visiting Patriots thanks to two long pass plays.

Late in the first half, though, things began to change. On third down Ross exploded for a long run up the middle; he carried several defenders before being brought down inside the 10-yard-line. Two plays later a touchdown pass officially ended the scoring drought.

An inspired group of Wildcats went on to record their first win of the season, 22-14. A week later they got their second, a 21-12 victory over Lithia Springs.

On Nov. 1 the Wildcats again fell behind 14-0 early, this time to the visiting Hiram Hornets. For the third game in a row they came back, with the 28-23 win preserved by a tackle on the 5-yard-line as time ran out. Ross finished the game with 10 tackles on defense and 23 yards rushing. For good measure, he was voted homecoming king. 

An established leader on the football field, Ross' influence could be said to go further off of it. "I've had some say I'm kind of like their big brother," he says. "Guys have been asking me to pray with them, telling me they know they need to make some changes in their lives."

That leadership had one more test with the final game of the season. The whispers about Woodland's three wins were that they came against teams that struggled just as much as the Wildcats. Now they faced traditional power Rome High, a team fighting for a playoff spot and one WHS had beaten only once in school history.

Woodland kept the score close and sent the game into two overtimes. Georgia high school football rules mandate that teams must go for 2-point conversions in the third overtime. After they scored on their possession, Woodland head coach Vince DiLorenzo looked at his players in the huddle before the 2-point try and was met by the words of quarterback Mason Robinson, a converted wide receiver who had gone to the bench during the six-game losing streak before he reclaimed his job.

"Coach, let's give the ball to Isaiah."

Confirming nods all around followed. On the snap Ross plowed through defenders to complete the conversion. Rome scored a touchdown when it got the ball but didn't make the 2-point conversion, giving Woodland a 36-34 victory and its longest winning streak in 13 years.

For Ross, Vernon's coaching and influence on his life has gone far beyond the gridiron.

"He was my favorite coach in ninth grade," Isaiah said. "I was always watching him and I still do -– how he lives his life. I ask him questions about the Bible and know I can always go to him or my mom for answers."

Improving in any phase of life would be more enjoyable if it was easier, but that's not how the math works. Obstacles –- like the separation of a family or historical losing streak –- inevitably arrive at some point. One option is to give up.

For some, it's not an option at all.

Thursday
Nov212013

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering: Lives in Arkansas, South Asia cross through prayer

Helping with homework - Lisa Bell of First Baptist Church, Centerton, looks over homework with some children in India. “I went in to see what was going on with the children. I noticed they had books. I sat down and started pointing, and they would say the letter or name the picture in English,” Bell explained.Jenifer Martin Siemens
First Baptist Church, Centerton

Editor’s Note: The Bedia of South Asia and International Mission Board (IMB) worker Clifton Melek* are featured in the Week of Prayer for International Missions: Dec. 1-8, 2013. This story is by Jenifer Martin Siemens, a member of First Baptist Church in Centerton. She witnessed this unengaged, unreached people group prayer journey firsthand. 

CENTERTON – Shanti* was the only believer in her village. The Bedia woman prayed in secret every day for one year.

The persecution from her friends and family was unbearable. Day after day, she cried out to God in a private prayer room built by her nonbelieving husband, Ashish.* He wanted to keep her safe.

Click to read more ...