150 Years Ago Today

The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Cannons boomed at dawn around Charleston Harbor, recreating the bombardment of Fort Sumter that plunged the nation into the Civil War on April 12, 1861.

Civil War reenactors gather at White Point Garden near Fort Sumter, S.C., for a candlelight sunrise concert Tuesday, April 12, 2011 to commemorate the moment the first shots of the Civil War were fired. The South Carolina ceremony begins the four-year national commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, our nation’s bloodiest war.

Around 4 a.m. Tuesday, a single beam of light was aimed skyward from Fort Sumter. Then about half-hour later — around the time of the first shots of the war — the beam split into two beams, signifying a nation torn in two

The war resulted in more than 600,000 deaths, although during the bombardment of Sumter only a Confederate officer’s horse was killed.

Union troops in the fort surrendered after absorbing 36 hours of Confederate shells.

Brent Kooi CNN Report from Japan

Brent Kooi was our Dean of Students for many years, and left a couple years ago to begin ministry work in Japan.

He captured the earthquake on video, and it is featured on CNN I-Reports.

He sounds incredibly calm as he narrates the earth, literally, moving under his feet.

The only way someone can learn to be that calm in crisis is to have been an experienced and gifted Dean of Students!

Egyptian Christian Leader’s Perspective During the Demonstrations

My long time friend, Ramez Attalah, is General Secretary of the Bible Society of Egypt.  He was the program chair for the Lausanne Congress in Cape Town in October.

While the demonstrations were still going on and two days before the president resigned, Ramez held a briefing for the Lausanne board and a few others.  Here is a portion of his report –  Ramez said this report could be shared publicly.

  • Christians and Muslims have been united as never before defending their homes on overnight shifts (due to the lack of police security) this is resulting for many to make friends with neighbors they never knew and there is a real sense of camaraderie which we never had before.
  • Food, medical and other supplies are dwindling since most factories and businesses are closed after last week’s wave of vandalism and the daily 3 p.m. curfew. Pray for the poor and destitute who suffer most at this time.
  • I’ve lived through many of these kind of dramatic events (1952 revolution which deposed the King, the burning of much of downtown Cairo, the tri-partite attack on Egypt in 1956 by the Israelis, French and British following the nationalization of the Suez canal (a bomb fell in our garden), the nationalization of all capitalists when my family lost all their properties and were terribly humiliated, my pediatrician was tortured to death in jail during that time, the brutal assassination in 1981 of President Sadat after he made peace with Israel, the security forces rampage which caused much damage around the city and a strong earthquake in 1992 etc.. So though this situation is volatile and unstable we’ve lived through similar crises and it’s not time to panic or leave the country.

Chilean Miners and the Jesus Film

A few minutes ago the last of the 33 miners was pulled from the Chilean mine where they have been a half-mile underground for over two months.

A friend from Campus Crusade for Christ wrote me this afternoon to share how they supplied MP3’s of the Jesus Film to the miners and provided the shirts they are all wearing as they are rescued from the mine.

The shirts say, “Thank you God” and also printed on them was the favorite verse of the 9th miner rescued.  Once above ground, he knelt and prayed.

Here’s a photo of the tee shirt the miners are wearing.  You can see the JESUS Film logo on the shirt sleeve as well.

20 of 33 Chile miners rescued so far - World news - Americas - msnbc.com

The following is an excerpt from the Chilean Campus Crusade for Christ National Director:

I want to share with you about the last two very intense weeks as we have worked on the project to take the Word of God and the JESUS audio version to the mine, but it has really be worth the effort as it is food for the soul.

As Campus Crusade, God guided us to think about how we could help these men and this was how we took the initiative to contact some churches in the North, leaders and authorities about sending the JESUS audio into the mine.

It wasn’t easy in the beginning because of some apathy in the Christian leadership and a lack of a sense of urgency, together with the restrictive control of the rescue team but God in His sovereignty provided that we were able to gain contact with the daughter and the brother of one of the three Christians that were trapped there.

During several weeks, I was in contact with them, and I explored the possibility of sending them audio material.  Finally, I traveled to the mine with 33 MP3’s containing the JESUS audio version and an ample portion of the Bible. I was there for 2 days and we sent the MP3’s through each family members that were there.

Stephen Hawking and God

A helpful perspective from J. John

Stephen Hawking and God

In a slow week for news the theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has made headlines by stating in his latest book that he now sees no necessity for God in the  creation of the universe. (He also said that ‘philosophy is dead’ which suggests that when it comes to promoting books even the best scientists recognise the commercial value of a controversial statement.) His view raises issues for Christians; so let me respond to them.

First, Hawking’s apparent change in belief is not as radical as it seems. The way the story is being portrayed is that Hawking the believer has now, as a result of his research, become an atheist. But was he ever really a believer?  His association with the idea of God came about when, in his best-selling book, A Brief History of Time, he concluded by mentioning the possibility of a theory of the universe that would allow discussion of the great question of its origin. In a final sentence he wrote, ‘If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.’  It was a great line to end with and his editor must have loved it; Hawking himself has said that, ‘In the proof stage I nearly cut the last sentence … had I done so, the sales might have been halved.’ Now many people read that final sentence or heard it quoted and felt that Hawking was supporting religious faith. Indeed, in the twenty odd years since it was written it has sometimes been quoted as a defence of religious belief. Yet when you read more about Hawking’s thought it is clear that the ‘God’ he mentioned in that throwaway comment was little more than a  philosophical concept. His god was an academic answer to a cosmological puzzle and no more. So his denial of God in his most recent book is hardly a backtracking from a living faith but rather a shifting of position on what is  a purely intellectual debate.

Second, it is very clear that even if Hawking ever really seriously believed in a Creator, such a figure bore very little resemblance to the God of the Bible. A God who does no more than ‘light the blue touch paper of the universe’ and then disappears is not the God of Scripture. The Bible’s God is a being who doesn’t just create the cosmos but is intimately involved in every aspect of it and continues to sustain it. The God of the Bible did not create once but continues to create things every second. He is involved in the world at this moment; see for example Job 38, Psalm 104:10-30 and Matthew 6:26; 10:29. The Christian God is a God who was not just the Ultimate Physicist at the dawn of creation but someone who through Jesus Christ can be our heavenly Father.

Third, we need to listen to such pronouncements on the origin of the cosmos with some caution. Hawking is a very brave man in his confident belief that the origin of the universe does not need God. He is saying that he understands how, 13 or so billion years ago, this unimaginably vast and complex universe came into being. Given that serious cosmological research is barely 300 years old and has been conducted from only one small planet in a tiny corner of just one galaxy, perhaps a greater degree of humility would be appropriate. The mind of man is extraordinarily clever – and Professor Hawking’s is especially so – but it is wise to know our limits and to recognise that there are some things about which we may not have all the data and even some that may be utterly beyond our comprehension.

I am not at all surprised that Stephen Hawking did not find any proof for God in the incredibly complex mathematics of the Big Bang. Let us suppose for a moment that he had – that he had detected unmistakable evidence of God’s handiwork in the early history of the cosmos. On the one hand, it would be gratifying for the believer. Yet wouldn’t it suggest that God was some sort of academic snob who only really wanted to reveal himself to those who were extraordinarily intelligent? What would such a revelation say to those of us who struggle to add up our shopping bills? Or to those who can’t either read or write? No, I think I prefer the God of the Bible, who makes himself accessible through Jesus Christ to all who seek him.

Finally, it is worth making the point that an enormous problem still remains for Stephen Hawking and his followers.  One of the most fundamental of all questions is ‘Where did the universe come from?’ The Christian answer is to simply state that God made it out of nothing. Hawking’s answer to such a question is to say that nothing made the universe: that this greatest possible something came, of its own accord, out of absolutely nothing. Both views require faith but I know which of the two I find it easier to believe in!

J.John  (Canon)

BP’s Other Toxic Spill

I’m a regular contributor, writing about topics of leadership, to Faith and Leadership, the online discussion for issues of the Church, sponsored by Duke Divinity School.

Since I’m from Mississippi, their editor, Dr. Jason Byassee, asked me to write this month about the gulf oil spill.

Getting all I might want to say into their limited word count is difficult.  So here is the first part (they had to cut for space) and then it picks up with the article running on their blog:


BP’s Other Toxic Spill

Here in Mississippi, the oil spill in our Gulf is personal.

It is our families who will be bankrupt because of tourism losses, our wetlands and beaches trashed for years to come, our fish and wildlife threatened, and our coastline home prices that will plunge.

Most tragically, it is our spirit that has been broken by BP.

After five years of tenaciously pulling our bootstraps to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina’s head-on collision with the Mississippi coast, we in the Gulf are now held hostage to an oil company who will not tell us what the future holds.

Katrina brought us to our knees.  The oil spill brings us to tears.

While their oil flow pollutes our environment and our economy, BP’s other toxic spill of misinformation has become just as damaging.  Their limited communication, filled with blaming, selfishness, and the slow drip of compounding uncertainty, magnifies the pain of the crisis.

If we had we known what was coming from the beginning (up to 40,000 barrels a day instead of only 1,000), we’d have reached for our bootstraps again and worked for solutions. All we’d ask now is to know as much as they know, even if they don’t have all the answers. Isn’t that what all of us want when we feel overwhelmed in a crisis?

In the Church, all leaders will eventually be called on to manage a crisis that is beyond our control.  And while pressing to finding solutions to the problem itself — economic challenges, moral failing, or dramatic change in direction — we must also communicate properly to those in our care, so we don’t also create a subsequent culture of anxiety that will become even more damaging than our root challenge.

A popular poster from the satirical Despair.com reads, “The secret to success is knowing who to blame for your failures.” And placing blame on those whom God has entrusted to us in ministry is just about that blatantly silly.  Leaders who carry the burden of bad news will be respected and trusted in the long run and are best equipped to offer comfort in time of crisis.

Three tools are critical for sharing bad news without placing blame.

Be Direct

Bad news needs to be shared quickly as soon as the initial facts can be gathered and the analysis of the situation is clear.

Occasionally leaders who enjoy the spotlight will rush the stage, running ahead of the assessment, but doing so creates mistrust if the information is not reliable. More typically leaders try to shield or downplay the bad news from others with the hope that a solution can be found before the circumstances become public.

Those under your care are part of the solution to any problem and you need them to know so they can help you.  Further, they are most likely to be resilient in the pain of a crisis when brought into the discussion early rather than being held at arm’s length.

Be Disclosing

The Apollo 13 spacecraft trouble became known to the world with the infamous words “Houston, we have a problem . . . ”.

Don’t sugarcoat, underplay, or discount the fullness of your challenge.  If the scope of the problem is uncertain, it is better to discuss the worst case among the possibilities and later to be pleasantly surprised than to offer rose coloring that is the first of many disappointments.

Good news can be leaked, allowing it to spread across your ministry team because it is likely to retain its integrity of factual base. But bad news must be announced, or the gossip and speculation will run far ahead of the facts.  Without the full story, those in your care will become fearful, assumptions will run rampant, and energy will be drained by uncertainty.

Be Discreet

It is important to understand the difference between correcting and blaming. The first is done in private. The second occurs in public.

Leaders must privately correct those who make mistakes and create personal growth plans to assure coworkers learn to fulfill their responsibilities. Part of that entails the leader forgiving for the mistake so they can get a fresh start and move forward rather than being weighed down by their errors. This is much different from pointing out the flaws of others publicly.

Shouldering blame won’t hurt leaders in the long term. But even if it does, the Bible clearly guides us on this point: “Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17).

Leadership during a crisis demands that we present the facts as fully and accurately as we can. This is a time when others need to feel confident they know as much as the leader about the challenge. Leaders may have learned to live comfortably with a high level of ambiguity and uncertainty, but others have not and they need to have as much detailed information as possible.

Leaders who cannot transparently define the problem in a crisis cannot be trusted to find a viable solution.  Having all the answers is not vital. “I don’t know” is not a bad answer if you don’t know.  But others will only trust you in the eventual solution if you don’t disguise the struggle ahead.

Whether you’re the fourth largest company in the world or a ministry leader in a crisis, trust cannot be bought with public relations campaigns.  One of these days soon, BP will tell us they have the crisis fixed and new safeguards in place to assure we will never have another oil spill like this. Will you believe them?

Roger Parrott is President of Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi.  He is the author of The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders (David C. Cook).

International Ballet Competition

For the next two weeks our campus is the “Olympic Village” for the best ballet dancers from around the world.  The flags of the nations of the competitors fly over our student center.

The International Ballet Competition is held in Jackson every four years and the competitors, coaches, and support team live on our campus while here for the most prestigious prize in ballet.

If you’re not familiar with the IBC, take a look HERE.  We are proud to be part of this important international event.

Founded in 1978 by Thalia Mara, the first USA International Ballet Competition took place in 1979 and joined the ranks of Varna, Bulgaria (1964); Moscow, Russia (1969); and Tokyo, Japan (1976).

These first competitions were given sanction by the International Dance Committee of UNESCO’s International Theater Institute.

Today, international ballet competitions flourish worldwide, and the USA IBC in Jackson remains one of the oldest and most respected competitions in the world.

In 1982, the United States Congress passed a Joint Resolution designating Jackson as the official home of the USA International Ballet Competition. Jackson held subsequent competitions in 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006.

Report from Haiti

The news from Haiti is starting to roll off the front pages, but the recovery will take years.  Here is a report from our friends at Somebody Cares.  Doug’s wife Lisa Stringer is in Haiti and gives this look into the challenges and recovery work:

This morning we made our way onto the airport grounds where many Humanitarian groups from various countries are camping out, unloading and storing goods and supplies for those in need.  We saw flags from Turkey, France, Israel, Great Britain and the USA to name a few. I met soldiers from Uruguay, Portugal, Brazil, as  well as a few others. The nations are ever present and the UN has troops everywhere. The US military has a strong presence as well.

My observation is that the locals tend to have reservations about the UN since they do not have access to news sources and do not know the great effort made by many to assist them. I met people today that have only had a few crackers to eat in the last few days and have begged for them.

The downtown area of Port-Au-Prince was a disaster and looked more like a war zone. Four-story buildings are now just a pile of rubble. The area is quite dusty, the air smells of death and people are digging through the rubble in hopes of finding anything they can use or sell to survive.

Thousands of people lined up around the Presidential palace in hopes of receiving something to eat from the UN troops that are guarding it. We saw one desperate man drink from the dirty and probably contaminated water along the curb. We desperately wanted to give him our own water but to do so would cause a riot. People who are desperate do desperate things.

In front of the main, historic, and now destroyed cathedral we met two (now homeless) ladies that were attending service and ran out when they felt the Quake. One said her niece was in the rubble along with hundreds of others.  She escaped with a few scrapes which our field medic, Craig, treated. They have lost everything. They only own the clothes on their back and have decided to call the sidewalk next to the destroyed church their home for now. Although it is unsafe for us to pull anything out, I found a way to leave her my lunch (an orange and
fruit cup).

A teenager we met shares that he lost his parents and some siblings and now is the only caregiver for his younger brother. He lost a tooth yesterday trying to get a gallon of water and is desperate for food and shelter.  In a few hours our team will head out to get in line at the port and wait for a barge to arrive that has food.

We are in hopes of getting anything to help the pastors and the 10,000 people they represent.  One pastor, now homeless, sleeps in the driveway of the guest home where I am staying with a mere sheet as a bed. Now homeless, other friends of the ministry sleep on the patio, or wherever there is space.

At one mission, our team helped dig a military style latreen in  the “Tent City” as the 2,000 people that are living under sheets and in cardboard boxes have no restrooms.  A few hundred yards away, the medic on our team assisted in the medical clinic helping amputate the tip of someone’s finger as the patient watched.

I am blessed to be a part of something so much bigger than  ourselves. I am with a group of people that love the Lord and are  demonstrating to the Locals that Somebody Cares. Please continue to pray for our health and strength. Pray that we find favor with  those in charge of food and water distribution. Pray for the many teams that are here and those that are on their way.

To have the heart of Jesus,
Lisa Stringer
Somebody Cares America/Int’l

P.S. It is now the evening of January 27th and the team was able to secure the needed food, water and other goods to help the pastors and those they represent.
www.SomebodyCaresHaiti.org <http://www.somebodycareshaiti.org/>
www.somebodycares.org <http://www.somebodycares.org/>

Help for Haiti

The stories and pictures from Haiti are overwhelming.  It is hard to imagine so much concentrated devastation.  As bad as Hurricane Katrina was to our part of the country, those challenges were small compared to the magnitude of the the loss of life and the difficulty of getting help to these people who have so little even in the best of times.

Here are some resources that might be helpful:

1.  Tomorrow, during our first chapel of the semester of the spring semester, we will have a time of focused prayer for Haiti.

2.  One of our own Belhaven folks has a close connection to Haiti.  Tabitha Martin works in our admissions office, and her husband works with The Fleury Foundation, whose mission is “to help the forgotten children of Haiti.”  You can look on their web site for more info or talk to Tabitha. They have an orphanage, health clinic, and school.

3.  Doug Stringer spoke in chapel last year, and has a wonderful ministry called Somebody Cares America.  They are about the best I know in responding QUICKLY to people in need during a time of crisis.

4.  Following any tragedy, especially one of this magnitude, many ask WHY.  This morning I received a very helpful reflection about “why Haiti” from a friend of Belhaven, Dr. Jerry Seale, who is the CEO of the Evangelical Alliance of the Caribbean.  (His daughter graduated from Belhaven three years ago.)  He is close to Haiti and his perspective is helpful on many levels.

Haïti: Cursed or Blessed?

Every time a disaster happens anywhere in the world some within the Christian community tell us it’s the judgment of God being poured out on sinful people. It has become increasingly difficult for me to think in those terms.

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God and sin entered the equation the entire creation was impacted. All creation fell and “groans and labours with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:22). Since fallen humans live in a fallen creation we can expect disasters like the Haïti earthquake to happen from time to time. Hence the term “natural disasters” as they can be expected to occur quite naturally in a fallen world. If one subscribes to a pre-millennial interpretation of end-time prophecy, then an increase in such tragedies would be expected based on Matthew 24:7-8.

There are specific instances in the Old Testament where God used natural disasters to express His judgment on a nation or people. However, this was not the norm in ancient history. They too had their share of disasters occurring naturally in the context of a fallen world.

In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus clearly teaches that tragedy is not necessarily the consequence of greater sin for then none of us would escape. “To begin with, He made it clear that human tragedies are not always divine punishments and that it is wrong for us to ‘play God’ and pass judgment. Job’s friends made this same mistake when they said that Job’s afflictions were evidence that he was a sinner. If we take that approach to tragedy, then we will have a hard time explaining the sufferings of the Prophets and Apostles, and even of our Lord Himself.”1

So the earthquake in Haïti does not need to be placed in the context of a judgment from God.

But what of this supposed covenant with the devil made by the Haïtians to gain victory over the French in their war for freedom and independence? That all depends on how the historical facts are interpreted. I used to believe just such a covenant had been made but have come to understand that there are valid interpretations of the historical events that do not include demonic covenants.

There was undoubtedly a time of prayer led by the Jamaican, Boukman, in Bois-Caiman but it is difficult for me to take the available evidence and turn it into a demonic contract. Indeed, the oral traditions that preserved the prayer indicate that the prayer was addressed to God.2

The available evidence could be interpreted to have been a gathering of uneducated Roman Catholic – or even animist – slaves who sought, in the best way they knew, the help of God in obtaining their freedom and defeating the French, the British and then the Spanish.

In fact, “Practising Voodoo” was “strictly forbidden by Toussaint [L’Ouverture]. ”3 This satanic covenant idea is perhaps one of those statements that have taken on the aura of an urban legend.4

So why has Haïti seemed to languish in underdevelopment? Perhaps the reasons are less dramatic than satanic covenants. Here are three things that have had a strong negative impact on Haïti’s ability to develop alongside its Caribbean neighbours.

Firstly, when Haïti defeated the colonial powers of the time and succeeded in declaring freedom and independence, it posed a serious threat to the system of chattel slavery practiced throughout the colonies and depended on for the enrichment of the colonisers. “It is no exaggeration to say that Haïti’s revolution was the first major blow to colonialism by [blacks], and the first assertion of black rights in the Americas.”5

Many in the Caribbean believe that the Haïtian revolution’s success in 1804 had a direct impact on the British Parliament’s decision to abolish the slave trade in 1807.

Consequently, “Haïti was isolated at birth – ostracised and denied access to world trade, finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of national strangulation recorded in modern history.”6

Secondly, France demanded and received reparations from the Haïtians – initially set at 150 million francs but later reduced – for all French property lost in the war of independence, including the value of the hundreds of thousands of slaves who were freed. It took until well into the twentieth century for Haïti to pay off this reparations debt, sometimes paying as much as 70% of the foreign exchange earned in any given year towards this debt.7

The value in today’s world of these reparations has been estimated to be billions of Euros. This national “debt” severely retarded Haïti’s ability to develop economically.

Thirdly, lack of adequate leadership has also been an ongoing difficulty facing Haïti. Leader after leader seems to have concentrated on acquiring a personal fortune rather than building the nation. Governmental corruption in Haïti has become legendary. Without proper leadership no country can
be built for “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”8

Given all of this, outlined here so briefly, there is no question in my mind that the heart of God aches over the devastation that has befallen Haïti as a result of the earthquake on January 12, 2010. It has been such an encouragement to hear persons in Haïti testifying in the news media to their confidence that it was God alone who saved them amidst the carnage. Surely God is “walking” the streets of Port-au-Prince.

Hearing the singing of hymns relayed by the television news channels night after night in the parks and on the streets of Port-au-Prince since the earthquake has reminded me that about one-third of the population of Haïti is said to be Evangelical Christians. Some of the largest Evangelical churches in the Caribbean are in Haïti, with single congregations numbering in the thousands of members.

Could it be that the earthquake in Haïti is nothing more than an egregious natural disaster? Is God willing to step into this calamity and give Haïti another chance to build a righteous nation? Does Haïti have a new opportunity to develop a transformed nation?

With the help of the world pouring into Haïti surely we can build new and effective governmental structures, better schools and hospitals, efficient electrical and telephone systems, proper roads, habitable housing for all, delivery systems for potable water and a system of roads that will facilitate economic development.

As I intercede for Haïti I have a sense of the Holy Spirit hovering over that troubled nation “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34). I urge Christians everywhere to intercede for Haïti in the months and years ahead that God would enable her to rise to take her place among the nations as an equal.

Let us pray that Haïti will move very quickly from disaster relief to national construction and that those who make the decisions will be endued with divine wisdom to make those decisions that will lead to a successful Caribbean nation replacing the almost failed state that Haïti had become. Pray also that the system of corruption that has seemed inherent in Haïti would have perished in the earthquake.

May God fill Haïti with His glory. May His anointing flow down the streets of every city, town and hamlet of that country. May His people there find the courage and strength to step out by faith and build a new nation to the honour and glory of God Almighty.

© January 2010 at Bridgetown, Barbados by Bishop Gerald “Gerry” Seale, DD, General Secretary and CEO, Evangelical Association of the Caribbean
Permission is granted to publish this article as long as proper attribution is given to the author.

1    Warren W. Wiersbe. 2001. The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Volume I. Colorado Springs, Victor, p.224

2    R. D. Heinl, Jr, and N. G. Heinl. 1978. Written in Blood – the story of the Haitian people, 1492-1971. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, p.43

3    C. L. R. James. 1989. The Black Jacobins. New York, Vintage Books, p.309

4    Michael Ireland. 2010. Urban Legend Expert Debunks Haitian ‘Pact with the Devil.‘ Assist News,
<http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2010/s10010104.htm> accessed January 18, 2010

5    John Marquis. 2007. Papa Doc: Portrait of a Haïtian Tyrant 1907-1971. Kingston, LMH Publishing Ltd, p.60

6    Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. 2010. “The Hate and the Quake.” Sunday Sun, January 17, 2010. Bridgetown, The
Nation Publishing Company Limited, p.9A

7    Ibid, p.24A 8    John C. Maxwell. 1993. Developing the Leader Within You. Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers