NAIROBI, Kenya (BP)–White dust so thick it appears to be snow. Stench emanating from places yet uncovered. Fatigued people working like automatons just to finish the gruesome work.
The dust is settling now, but the memories are not soon forgotten by missionary Jon Sapp. But like Pompeii rising from the ashes, so hope is emerging from the rubble that used to be the Ufundi House. The building was leveled Aug. 7 in a terrorist explosion targeting the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
“Three people we know of have come to know the Lord as their Savior since then,” said Sapp, regional leader for Southern Baptist International Mission Board work in Eastern Africa. “So out of this death experience there is new life here in Nairobi.”
The prospect of new spiritual life gives the Wichita, Kan., native much-needed encouragement on the one-week anniversary of the day he worked at the bomb site next to the embassy. It provides a spark in an otherwise dreary Nairobi, where gray skies cover the land as victims of the blast are laid to rest each day.
Misty rain falls as frequently as tears.
“I’m now to the dream stage,” Sapp said, his blue eyes glazed after being unable to fall asleep the night before. “Just a normal part of dealing with post-traumatic stress.”
A missionary in Nairobi since 1991, Sapp’s positive attitude about stress belies the horrors he encountered the night of Aug. 11. He and missionary colleague Ted Davis joined a Kenyan Red Cross worker and a member of the Kenya army in digging bodies from the rubble. Of 24 bodies found that last night of searching, their team found 16.
“What I saw was people who had died instantly. However, working with the Kenyan Red Cross gave us a chance to use our language (Swahili) and preserve the dignity of the victims. Probably the most important thing we did was work with the Kenyans,” Sapp said.
“I never experienced any comments or actions expressing their distrust or disapproval of our presence,” Sapp said, taking issue with reports of anti-American sentiment. Other American workers expressed similar feelings of acceptance at the site.
In fact, the Kenyan army invited Sapp and his team to breakfast. “Shoulder to shoulder, it was an excellent experience,” Sapp said.
The hardest part of the ordeal for Sapp is knowing that three bodies are unidentified, he said. “We sang a song the next morning, ‘He Knows Our Name.’ It was very touching for me that there are people that only the Lord knows their name.”
Sapp expressed gratitude for the outpouring of prayer and concern for missionaries in Tanzania and Kenya. “Southern Baptists across America did all they could to find out how missionaries were, and we are grateful no one in those missions were hurt,” he said.
“Please continue to pray for church members here as we make contact with extended family members or friends of those injured or touched by the tragedy, that we take this opportunity to talk about the hope only Christ can bring in this devastating event.”
(BP) photos en route from Kenya and will be posted in SBCNet BP Photos Library during the week of Aug. 24.
Stevens’ vision for media’s impact
honored by Southwestern, NRB
By Scott Link
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Paul Stevens didn’t have to be in combat during World War II. He chose to be.
Not because the U.S. Army Air Force chaplain wanted to be a hero — flying 29 missions and receiving the Purple Heart, three Bronze Clusters and three Presidential Citations — but so that he could better communicate with the 2,000 men in his squadron.
“I had to go up before I could understand what people were feeling,” Stevens said.
In the 50 years since the war, Stevens has used that same desire to understand people and communicate to them the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Beginning a broadcasting ministry through a family devotion time on KADA radio while pastor of First Baptist Church, Ada, Okla., Stevens eventually went on to serve as president of the former Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission from 1953-71. During that time, the commission went from producing one program, “The Baptist Hour,” to 39 programs. From its studios in Fort Worth, Texas, the commission had 3,824 broadcasts on 3,710 radio and television stations weekly. Commission programs were broadcast in 12 languages and were heard by an estimated 100 million people weekly.
“He had the vision for a national radio outreach on secular stations,” reflected David Clark, NRB’s chairman and executive director of the North American Mission Board’s Broadcast Communications Center in Fort Worth, Texas, which assumed RTVC duties under the Southern Baptist Convention’s restructuring completed last year.
Stevens additionally “embraced television in 1956 as a new way to bring the gospel to a mass audience via secular stations,” Clark noted.
“Dr. Stevens and his ideas reached all the way to a kid in Richmond, Va.,” said Dennis Parrish, current occupant of the Paul Stevens Chair of Communication at Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who remembered an intriguing animated dot named “Jot” from his childhood who solved problems using biblical principles. Learning that those and other shows were made at the RTVC, Parrish credited Stevens’ projects with greatly influencing him toward a ministry in communications.
“His impact is just now being recognized. He dreamed big dreams and created unique opportunities,” Parrish said. “He was an innovator in Christian media. He truly does represent the ability to deal as a minister in a secular-driven medium.”
Recognizing his contributions to communications, Southwestern inaugurated the chair of communications last March. According to Parrish, the endowment provides an avenue by which colleagues, peers, family and friends honor Stevens, now in his 80s, and at the same time carrying on his work.
“Everybody would like to know that what he or she has done will live on beyond them, but there is no guarantee of that. I am thankful that the seminary has seen fit to honor me in this way,” said Stevens, who is happy that future ministers will continue to learn about communications. The endowment of the chair supplements Southwestern’s Communications Center budget, allowing for enhancements to the program.
In addition to the chair at Southwestern, Stevens was honored by NRB last January with the Milestone Award for 50 years of continuous service in Christian broadcasting.
Ed Malone, a former RTVC vice president of radio, said Stevens was a visionary and a pioneer in the realm of religious broadcasting, combining a pastor’s heart and a desire to use media because of its power to reach people in new ways. Malone described Stevens’ tenacity to reach the world for the gospel not unlike the Apostle Paul’s.
“He dared to be bold,” Malone said. “When you worked for Paul Stevens, it was like holding on to the end of a lit Roman Candle.”
At the commission, Stevens worked in conjunction with NBC to produce the first uncensored look at religious life in communist Russia: “Report From Moscow.” Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope, Billy Graham and others who had visited Russia talked about their experiences at the Baptist church in Moscow.
“I went to NBC (to present) the possibility of going over and filming the services there,” Stevens recalled. After approval was received, they had to battle temperatures of 30 below and a complicated web of bureaucracy in order to finish the documentary. The problems were overcome, and the project won an Emmy.
Producing “Walk Beside Me,” the first hour-long religious public affairs special, Stevens traced the life of Paul and explained the explosion of the Christian faith to the West.
Stevens also is the author of two books: “The Ultimate Weapon,” which deals with Christianity and communism, and “Christianity and Gathered Gold,” a devotional book with photos of people he has met and ministered to.
“(Stevens) is one of the finest Christian men I have ever known. He was a good motivator, a good friend and a good boss,” said Gertrude Murphy, who also worked with Stevens at the RTVC.
Murphy said Stevens made working fun, but he expected excellence from those who worked with him. Malone said that everyone working with Stevens felt like they were a part of a family. “I shall always be thankful to God that he was a part of my life,” Malone said.
Strategy planning begins with God,
not leaders or members: Mitchell
By Linda Lawson
RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Developing strategy plans for a church doesn’t begin with the pastor’s goals, the members’ desires or even the congregation’s vision or mission statements.
It must begin with God, Dennis Mitchell told participants in a session during Black Church Leadership Conference, Aug. 17-21 at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center. Mitchell is executive pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga., with responsibilities for administration.
When serving as a senior pastor of a church earlier in his ministry, Mitchell said he saw the need to lead the church to make some changes to reach people. “I felt the task squarely on my shoulders.”
Through Bible study and seeing anew that the church belongs to Christ, Mitchell said he “saw clearly the burden wasn’t mine. Ultimately, the responsibility doesn’t rest with the pastor. That was liberating.
“From God’s vantage point, he can look down and see where we are today. He knows our yesterdays and our tomorrows, so we must start by seeking him,” Mitchell said.
From a vertical focus on God, a church must next look outward to “understand something about those you’re trying to reach.”
He contrasted a program-driven church where leaders outline to prospective members all that’s taking place and invite them to join with a ministry-driven church that begins with identifying needs in the community and seeking to meet them.
“People don’t care what you know until they know you care,” Mitchell said. “When they know you care, they want to know what you know.”
He said the challenge of understanding and communicating with secular people has never been greater. He defined secular people as “those whose lives are not significantly influenced by the Christian faith. The assumptions, vocabularies, decision-making and lifestyles of secular people reflect no Christian agenda.”
Secular people tend to be self-centered, demanding, suspicious, have a low regard for labels, require quality and choices and are independent, Mitchell said.
To communicate effectively with secular people, churches must exercise care not to “compromise the message. What must change are our methods.”
With a strong sense of God’s direction and a clear understanding of the people to be reached, a church is ready to move into the planning process, Mitchell said. At that point, a clearly stated vision must be the focus for goals, strategies and budget.
At Greenforest, Mitchell said, “Our vision is to build a biblical community of loving relationships where members daily and devoutly love, follow and model Christ.” The vision is supported by the mission — “Find them. Bring them in. Grow them up. Send them out.”
“We expect our people to memorize this. It becomes part of who we are,” Mitchell said. He noted that the vision statement appears in the bulletin, church letterhead, printed materials and is regularly referenced from the pulpit.
From the vision and mission, the planning shifts to the present where the strategy planning team gathers information, including identification of the church’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, he said.
Finally, Mitchell said, the church is ready to set goals, develop strategy, address capacity and face structure concerns.
“You want to build on your strengths and consider strategies for addressing your weaknesses,” he said. Strategies must also include ways to take advantage of opportunities and set priorities.
He urged developing God-sized goals and strategies.
“We must call our people to become plank walkers. We are called to walk by faith and not by sight. Only as we walk by faith will we experience God extending the plank,” Mitchell said.
He listed six keys to effective strategy planning:
1) Understand God’s role in the process.
2) Recognize God will supply what you need.
3) Understand that planning is spiritual warfare. “When you start trying to see where God is at work, your enemy is going to attack. Be prepared for battle,” he said.
4) Recognize that order must be brought to chaotic times.
5) View planning as a systematic way to respond to needs.
6) Recognize that planning is an act of stewardship. “God has given us dominion over all creation. We have a responsibility to be good stewards over the resources we have.”
The Black Church Leadership Conference was sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources, International Mission Board, North American Mission Board and Annuity Board.
Rescue missions are focus
of family’s musical calling
By Dana Williamson
OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–God has given him a vision. A map on the wall in his home emphasizes that vision.
On the map are some 220 circles, each representing a rescue mission in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Tim Murr plans to visit each of those locations with the gospel message.
However, it took Murr, the son of home missionaries and the grandson of a foreign missionary, a long time to realize God had given him a ministry.
Murr grew up in eastern Kentucky. His parents, Bob and Carol Murr, work with Scripture Memory Mountain Mission. His grandmother, Lillian Murr, was a missionary to Japan. His sister and brother-in-law, Melody and Gary DuBois work with Wycliffe Bible Translators. His aunt is a music teacher at Bob Jones University.
Yet Murr, who attended a Christian boarding school in Tahlequah, Okla., as a high school student, chose to do secular jobs and to use his musical talents in nightclubs.
He said he was witnessed to by a truck driver in an Oklahoma City steel yard where he was working.
“The driver liked music and he would invite me into the cab of his truck during break time and talk to me about the Lord,” Murr recalled. “After about six months of listening to him, I thought there might be something to what he was saying.”
Murr said the Holy Spirit started working on him while he was singing one night at a club in Edmond, Okla.
“I looked at the patrons and realized I was assisting people in perhaps being killed or killing someone else, or breaking up homes,” he said.
After a particularly rough weekend of alcohol and drugs, he was alone in the steelyard and told the Lord, “If you can do anything with my life, you can have it, because I can’t do anything.”
“Immediately I started feeling better physically,” he recounted. “I knew I probably didn’t say the right words, but I knew something had happened to me.”
He was baptized at Oklahoma City’s Parkview Baptist Church and then began a struggle with what the Lord wanted him to do with his life.
He moved back to Kentucky where he worked for a children’s home and, for his church, drove a church bus, taught Sunday School, led a youth group and directed a boys’ club.
“I was trying to do music, too,” Murr said, “but I never found it easy to do in church. When I tried to sing in church, I knew I wasn’t supposed to be doing it. I figured music must be just a hobby.”
He then spent four years in Rogers, Ark., before moving back to Oklahoma City with his wife, Marla, a Muskogee native whom he married while in Kentucky, and resuming his job in the steel business.
One day, Murr said he told the Lord, “If you don’t show up and show me you’re real, I’m going back to living the way I did before I was saved, playing music in clubs.”
He said God began to reveal to him that he was a singer and wanted him to use his music to God’s glory to reach the poor and homeless.
“God also revealed to me the necessity of rehearsing and being well-prepared,” Murr said. “I put together a sound system and began rehearsing six hours a day for three months.
“I knew my material well, and started singing anywhere I could — in nursing homes, retirement centers, halfway houses and prisons.”
In 1993 Murr and his wife established the “Road Show.” “We had a seven-person show with mostly secular music,” Murr said. After prayer and encouragement from a contemporary singer/songwriter friend, Murr said they decided to do only gospel music. “We lost about half of our show,” he remarked.
“God revealed that what we were doing is ministry,” Murr said. “I didn’t have a lot of self-esteem about doing ministry because of my early lifestyle.”
After being turned down for help from the Salvation Army, Murr went to Oklahoma City’s City Rescue Mission and was given a directory of the International Union of Gospel Missions and a letter of recommendation from the director, Mickey Kalman.
Now on their own, the Murr family, which also consists of 18-year-old son Kevin, embarked on their first road trip, which began in Joplin, Mo., and led as far as Baltimore, Md.
“We camped out and made contact with missions along the way,” Murr said. “It usually took a day or two before we knew if we were going to get to do a chapel service.”
Murr said he was given an “Experiencing God” book by the director of the Muskogee Rescue Mission.
“I was looking for a way to teach what has happened to me and back it up with Scripture,” Murr said. “As I was reading that book, I realized that was what had happened to me.”
Now Murr incorporates Experiencing God in his testimony at the rescue missions.
“Our chapel services are 80 percent music, a testimony and invitation,” Murr explained. “The Lord made it clear to me I am not a preacher.”
The Murrs, members of Oklahoma City’s Olivet Baptist Church, have relied on faith for income. “About the time we think we need to go get a job, the Lord meets our needs,” Murr said.
In the last year, they have traveled more than 25,000 miles, led more than 50 chapel services and seen more than 100 professions of faith.
CORRECTION: In (BP) story, “Tony Cartledge elected editor of N.C.’s Biblical Recorder,” dated 8/18/98, please correct a spelling in the 3rd paragraph to Smyth, not Symth.