NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–God prepared the way for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention to minister in a new world even before terrorists attacked the United States last year, LifeWay’s President James T. Draper Jr., told trustees in their semiannual meeting Feb. 11 and 12.
“Five months ago today, we watched the horrible events of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 unfold as we attempted to keep at least part of our focus on the trustee meeting at Glorieta,” Draper recounted. “During that seemingly endless, exhausting day, I heard several of you comment that we had witnessed the world change. We recognized that our lives would never be the same, though none of us could have known the specifics of the changes we would experience.
“Today, we have greater insights into the new world in which we find ourselves,” Draper said. “However, our understanding of what has and is taking place in the aftermath of the worst terrorist acts in our time will continue to unfold in the months and years ahead.”
Draper said while LifeWay has developed new ministry resources since the terrorist attacks that others were already in process.
“I believe God went ahead of us, directing us into new paths and preparing us to be effective amid changed circumstances that had not yet taken place,” he said.
Among resources provided after the attacks were those offered through LifeWay’s website, www.lifeway.com.
“Within 60 minutes of the first plane striking the World Trade Center, text, photos and a call to prayer were posted on our website,” he said. “Our e-business group worked with LifeWay Church Resources to provide alternative, crisis-related Bible study lesson plans. In the first two weeks, the eight lessons were downloaded more than 218,000 times, and an additional 6,300 persons viewed them online.”
By late September, he continued, a special section of the site, “Ministering in Crisis,” had been created to equip Christian leaders with resources such as articles on “Helping Those Who Hurt,” “Does Someone Need Your Ears?” and many others. These articles have been viewed almost 31,000 times.
By early December, a special section of the website was created, “In God We Trust: Transforming America Through Prayer and Revival,” offering multiple resources on prayer, fasting and revival. More than 10,000 pages have been viewed, along with 1,000 downloads of free material.
Other such resources he cited include the December issue of LifeWay’s “Facts & Trends,” redesigned to include a special section on the need for prayer and revival; the joint sponsorship with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the SBC Executive Committee of a full-page ad offering hope to readers of USA Today; the collection of more than $20,000 by LifeWay employees and matched by LifeWay for a total exceeding $40,000 to support the ministry efforts of NAMB; displays of relevant resources on Islam, prayer and related topics in LifeWay Christian Stores, along with the distribution of free bookmarks with the theme of prayer for the nation and the world; and the publication by Broadman & Holman of a small book by D. James Kennedy, “Why Was America Attacked?”
More impressive, Draper said, are the ways God led LifeWay to take actions before Sept. 11.
“We did not know terrorism would soon dominate our thoughts and our prayers, but God did. We did not know that fear would become a constant companion of our children, but the Lord knew. We did not know people would need a word of hope as never before in their lives. We did not know that churches would suddenly find themselves seeking to minister in a new world. We did not know we would need to be more effective than ever before in identifying the needs of people and churches and meeting those needs,” he said. “Our Lord knew all of these things and he was at work at LifeWay and many other places, preparing his people to serve and minister.”
Among projects Draper reported that were in process before Sept. 11 and in which LifeWay employees have seen God’s leadership in preparing the entity in advance is the LifeWay Church Resources change initiative.
“Begun two years ago and implemented Oct. 1 — 19 days after Sept. 11 — the initiative grew out of our awareness that we hadn’t done a good job in meeting the needs of churches and individuals,” he said. “Through the prototype team that worked with several hundred churches in Tennessee and Kentucky, we learned we could help churches in new and more effective ways. The reorganization of LifeWay Church Resources positions us to achieve these goals. Since Sept. 11, the need has become even greater for us to be a learning organization that supports church ministries in changing ways.”
Other evidence Draper cited that God prepared LifeWay before the needs of a new world emerged include a new computer system being installed for LifeWay Christian Stores for more efficiency and effectiveness in their ministries; the development of the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation to combine the highest principles of accuracy with a high level of readability; and the revitalization of LifeWay’s conference centers, including completion at Ridgecrest of the Rutland Chapel this month, a new hotel in the fall and, at Glorieta, the renovation of the Chaparral Hotel.
“If we hadn’t launched FAITH as a tool to equip laypeople to witness and minister four years ago last month, we would need to do so today,” Draper added. “FAITH continues to grow as approximately 51,000 people in more than 7,800 churches have been trained in clinics. We know even more have been trained, but not all churches have reported these figures. Orders for more than 200,000 journals indicate that the total number of persons trained is perhaps four times what we have recorded.”
Draper said that immediately after the terrorist attacks, Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla., who created FAITH, sent his teams out to go door to door, asking to pray for each home. Visitors engaged family members in a discussion concerning their understanding of God in relation to the terrorist attacks. More than 40 people accepted Christ through these visits that one night.
“First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, and other FAITH churches were able to respond quickly to post-Sept. 11 needs because they already had teams of people equipped for evangelism and ministry,” Draper said. “The bottom line is that, because of FAITH, Southern Baptist churches have a growing army of witnesses and ministers.”
Locally, he said that for the third consecutive year LifeWay gave a gift to the Nashville community in the form of a Christmas program at the Ryman Auditorium.
“This year, we packed the hall with more than 2,200 people in attendance,” he reported. “I’ve gotten some incredible letters from business leaders all across Nashville. One, for example, expressed appreciation for ‘the most clear presentation of the gospel and yet in a way that anyone there would be attracted to.’ I am grateful for this opportunity to make a spiritual impact in downtown Nashville.”
Internationally, through LifeWay Mission Trips in 2001, he said, “[We] saw 7,855 people come to know Christ and at least 29 churches started. Our people have made an enormous impact for the kingdom in countries throughout the world. This year, we have trips planned to Kenya, Gambia, China, Armenia, Bangladesh and other countries.
“In God’s providence, the potential impact of Americans traveling to other countries to share their faith may be even greater in the aftermath of these terrorist attacks.”
Draper said this year represents “a time of incredible opportunity for LifeWay, one we may never have again. We can respond or react. While I am very proud of our response to the events of Sept. 11, we need to have in place a plan that will enable us to respond effectively and quickly to major events.
“I am energized by the opportunities of 2002. Together, we can make an impact for the kingdom of God that could literally touch the ends of the earth. We must use the talents God has given us. We must develop our plans, assess their effectiveness and make needed changes. We must learn better than ever the needs of our churches and meet them. We must be flexible enough to change directions when circumstances require. We must be good stewards of our resources and accountable to our Lord and Savior.”