God’s love: unconditional, absolute 

By Victoria York

“Yahweh your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will bring you quietness with His love. He will delight in you with shouts of joy” (Zeph. 3:17).

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – God the Father so fully loves and delights in His children He can hardly wait to bless us. Too often, however, we view His love as more dutiful and clinical than extravagant and demonstrative. We mistakenly believe His affection is a byproduct of our good behavior, and so we’re plagued by anxiety and guilt, forever wondering if we’re measuring up to His expectations. Too often, we confess with our mouths (and perhaps believe with our intellect) that we’re saved by grace alone and that we cannot be “good enough” to merit God’s love, and yet our hearts lag behind.

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Sanctity of Life: Dumas family blessed through adoption

Jessica Vanderpool
Arkansas Baptist News

Editor’s Note: Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar Jan. 18, commemorates 42 years of legal abortion in the United States.

Kirtley familyDUMAS – Haylee Kirtley is a talkative, sweet 6-year-old with a heart the size of Texas. She is good at school, enjoys playing soccer and, like so many girls her age, loves Elsa from the movie “Frozen.”

And to her parents, she is a gift from God – a gift for whom they waited a long time.

Jada and Allen Kirtley, members of First Baptist Church, Dumas, tried to have children for a decade before Jada Kirtley underwent a medically necessary procedure that made it impossible for her to bear children.

It might have seemed like the end of a dream. But Jada Kirtley, who serves as assistant director for First Baptist Church’s daycare center, knew God could make her a mother if it was His will.

“We’d been praying for a child before this, and so I finally just said, ‘Well, God, it’s in Your hands like it always has been,’” Jada Kirtley recalled. “And I said, ‘If I’m meant to be a mother, You will make it happen in Your own timing.”

A couple  of months after her medical procedure, Jada Kirtley’s cousin told her of a woman who was pregnant and planned to place her child for adoption. The Kirtleys met with the family; then they waited to hear if they would be chosen as the adoptive parents.

Allen Kirtley said his wife was nervous that they would not be chosen.

“So she and I got in the floor in our living room, held hands and I prayed for our God to give us (this) baby and let us be this baby’s mom and dad,” Allen Kirtley said. “I can tell you that when we got up, God told me she was ours and I would not believe anything else but what God had told me.”

A few days later, they received the news that they had been chosen as the adoptive parents, and a few weeks after that, Haylee was born.

Haylee Kirtley“I was in the delivery room when she was born,” Jada Kirtley said. “And so I got to hold her first. … The nurse put a warm blanket over me and placed her in my arms and said, ‘Here.’ And so I carried her out of the operating room to the nursery.”
Allen Kirtley recalled looking at her in the hospital.

“I can tell you right then and there I knew how much God loves me because that one instant I was in love with that little girl more than anything and to think GOD loves me more than I could love anything,” he said.

Jada Kirtley said the adoption of Haylee brought her story full circle. Jada Kirtley, herself, was adopted. In fact, it was her aunt – the mother of the cousin who helped the Kirtleys find Haylee – who helped Jada Kirtley’s own parents adopt her.

“Adoption to me is the most wonderful thing in the world … because these ladies could have chosen abortion over adoption, and you know there are so many … women who can’t have children of their own,” Jada said. “And that whole adoption process was just wonderful.”

Contact Jessica Vanderpool at


Thanksgiving Offering benefits Children’s Home

Stella Prather

HARRISON – Sixteen-year-old Carson* admits his life was headed in the wrong direction before he arrived at the Arkansas Baptist Boys Ranch earlier this year.

“I was doing things that I should not have been doing, ... and my life was not very good,” said Carson, one of 32 residents of the Harrison ranch, a ministry of the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries (ABCHomes).

Carson came to the ranch from a dysfunctional and abusive home life. At the time, he was also failing in school and hanging out with a “bad crowd.” 

But thanks to the ministry at the ABCHomes’ organization, which is committed to helping change lives of children and teens in crisis, Carson now is doing very well in school and has made lots of new friends. He beams when he talks about how his life has been transformed.

“Not too many people ... like me get a second chance,” shared Carson, adding, “The ranch has provided that for me. I am very thankful.”

Providing a loving home for hurting and needy children like Carson is the goal of ABCHomes, which raises much of its support through an annual Thanksgiving Offering, traditionally observed by Arkansas Baptist churches since 1908. The theme of the 2104 offering is Together, We are Changing Lives.

“The Thanksgiving Offering is our largest annual promotion for both our churches and our individual donors,” said David Perry, ABCHomes executive director. “Together, Arkansas Baptists and our ministry have been changing lives on the same 80 acres in Monticello where we had our beginning in 1894. Lives continue to be changed at the Arkansas Baptist Home for Children on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.”

This year, an anonymous donor, in memory of James Evans, will match individual funds given to the Thanksgiving Offering. 

“For every $1, up to $50,000, a matching gift will be given to ABCHomes,” said Perry. “This is an opportunity to help children through the matching gift.”

Offering promotional packets to help churches promote the offering were mailed to pastors in October. These resources include posters, bookmarks, a promotional video, offering envelopes and speaker request forms. Downloadable resources, including three versions of the offering video, can be found at

For more information, contact Stella Prather at or call 501-376-4791, ext. 5168. Visit

Stella Prather is the director of communications for ABCHomes.
*Name withheld for


Harrison teenager achieves dream, ministers through love of music

Jessica Vanderpool
Arkansas Baptist News

HARRISON – “Ladies and gentlemen.”

My heart is racing.

“At this time we ask that you please rise and remove your caps.”

I cannot believe what’s about to happen.

“Please direct your attention to the field as we honor the United States of America and pay tribute to our
veterans in active duty and retired men and women of our armed forces.”

I get into position.

“The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Chicago Cubs invite you to join in the playing of our National Anthem. Performed by Jordan Whitmer.”

The stadium stood still, waiting for me to make the
next move.

It’s time.

These are the words penned by high school student Jordan Whitmer in a short story he wrote about his experience playing the national anthem for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013. 

“I have a dream,” writes Whitmer, who attends Eagle Heights Baptist Church in Harrison. “This is a rather large dream. Something that not everybody gets to accomplish in their lifetime. I want to play in the big leagues.”

Whitmer goes on to chronicle how that dream came true on July 23, 2013, at Chase Field in Arizona as – for the first time ever – he played the national anthem on his trumpet for a major league baseball team.

Now 16 years old and a junior at Harrison High School, Whitmer has gone on to achieve this dream several times over, playing this year for the Kansas City Royals, the Cleveland Indians, the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros.

His musical journey started at age 4, as he learned to play piano. He also sang in children’s choir and grew to love music. He eventually transitioned from piano to trumpet, playing at his first minor league game at age 11.

But his hopes go far beyond playing in the big leagues. He also seeks to use his music to glorify God, and one way he does this is through a music ministry he shares with his father, Rick Whitmer, who also attends Eagle Heights. Rick Whitmer is senior director of mobilization at Ron Hutchcraft Ministries in Harrison.

The father/son pair combines their musical skills – Jordan Whitmer on trumpet and his father on piano – as they play at local churches. They call their duo “Trumpiano.” 

Rick Whitmer has a Bachelor of Music in piano performance and said he has played piano his whole life. He and his wife, Lisa, have three children: Jordan, Blake and Jenna.

“As my oldest son began to get better and better on the trumpet, it didn’t take long to figure out that we could play together,” he said.

They began playing on occasion for the evening church offertory and morning church service when Jordan Whitmer was about 11 years old.

“Eventually, opportunities started to come for us to share our music at other churches in our area – and a music ministry was born!” Rick Whitmer said.

Vickie Green, church administrator at Eagle Heights, noted the duo “have a positive attitude and a desire to use their talent.”

“They seem to enjoy playing and using their gift/talent in this way,” she said.

“Playing with my dad is really fun right now,” said Jordan Whitmer. “Putting my trumpet talent and his piano gift together to form a team is such a fun experience!”

They have played at First Baptist Church, Yellville; Shiloh Baptist Church, Harrison, and First Baptist Church, Green Forest, among others.

“My favorite aspect from the Trumpiano ministry is just being able to be used by God to lead in worship,” said Jordan Whitmer. “I love the deep moving moments that our music can bring.”

Rick Whitmer said one of his favorite aspects of the Trumpiano ministry is his and his son’s ability to encourage people. 

“So often, adults are discouraged about the state of today’s young people,” Rick Whitmer said. “We love to be able to share with them that there are teenagers that have a passionate heart for God, who want to make a difference for Him. We love to hear the response when people find out that Jordan started a Bible study in his public school and that he is willing to stand strong for Jesus despite all the cultural pressure to do otherwise.”

“Plus,” he added. “We just enjoy music.”

He commented on what it means to him to be able to minister with his son. 

“I am passionate about raising kids with a heart for God,” he said. “Sharing music together is a powerful way to use our gifts to impact other people with the hope of Jesus.” 

But their ministry has not been without its challenges. In 2013, Jordan Whitmer experienced a setback. He began experiencing pain when playing his trumpet, which prevented him from performing for a time.

“We prayed, and released all of this to God – and He gave back Jordan his talent at an entirely new level of impact,” Rick Whitmer said. “We know we serve a big God, who is faithful to those whose hearts are fully devoted to Him.”

Through the years, Jordan Whitmer has not only played in church and at both major and minor league games, including an Arkansas Travelers game, but also he has played at school performances, on TV and at other events. In addition to playing trumpet, he sings in his school choir. Jordan Whitmer is a leader in nonmusical ways as well. Along with starting a school Bible study, he has helped lead See You at the Pole prayer gatherings since third grade. Recently, he spoke at the local Kiwanis International service club. 

He desires to continue using his music for God’s glory.

“I hope to continue developing my trumpet and vocal talents in high school, during college and throughout the rest of my life,” he explained, “not necessarily as a career, but as a tool that I can use to help do whatever God wants me to do in helping Him further the kingdom. In the meantime, I want to keep touching lives with this neat Trumpiano ministry that I share with my dad.”

For more information on the Trumpiano ministry, visit

Contact Jessica Vanderpool at


Despite ISIS, Baptist Global Response serving in tough places around world

KURDISTAN (BP) – When ISIS began shelling this family's northern Iraq neighborhood, they had to flee into the night like everyone else. But with four children with disabilities, their escape was more difficult than most.

A daughter who is blind, another with epilepsy and two sons with muscular dystrophy distinguished the family from others.
They left their cattle and chicken farm and walked three hours to the relative safety of a nearby city. Meanwhile, 70 of their townspeople were kidnapped by ISIS and their fate remained unknown.

Baptist Global Response is onsite to help families displaced by the terrorists.

"When I met this family, they had taken shelter with seven other families, 30 people in total," said Abraham Shepherd, who directs BGR work in the Middle East. "When you visit with these forcibly displaced families, you are struck that they come from different segments of society – a policeman, a working mother, a nun – yet they all shared the same story of pain and suffering. Escaping through the night, they left with nothing.

"When we met them, they had been displaced for one month, and only one food basket had been given to them."

BGR relief teams have found many families like these, pooling their resources to rent a house or apartment, Shepherd said. At times as many as 90 people are crammed into one space, and they generally have gone unnoticed by relief groups who focus their aid donations on the big refugee camps.

Yet even in the camps, conditions are difficult.

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