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LifeWay’s vision focused on people, Draper tells SBC annual meeting

PHOENIX (BP)–LifeWay Christian Resources is focusing its vision on the lives of people, LifeWay President James T. Draper Jr. told messengers June 17 at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting at the Phoenix Civic Center.

Reading from the organization’s vision statement, he said: “As God works through us we will help people and churches know Jesus Christ and seek His Kingdom by providing biblical solutions that spiritually transform individuals and cultures.”

Draper then told messengers, “I’m going to share with you some of the ways God is working through LifeWay to do just that.”

Citing a range of examples of how resources produced by LifeWay have positively impacted people’s lives and ministries, Draper noted the global impact of the True Love Waits strategy and the ministry of one LifeWay Christian Store employee who led a young couple to personal faith in Christ.

The change from a traditional statistical report to personal testimony takes LifeWay’s vision statement from a corporate slogan to daily application, Draper said.

“Ten years ago we sketched True Love Waits out on a paper napkin from our cafeteria,” Draper said. “We had no budget or staff for the campaign, but I said, ‘Go for the dream and let’s see if God is in it.’ It caught on fast and 10 years later has transformed an entire culture.”

International Mission Board missionaries to Uganda Larry and Sharon Pumpelly 10 years ago introduced the biblically based sexual abstinence program to that country. Studies show that AIDS/HIV has decreased by more than 30 percent over the decade, Draper reported. Uganda is the only African nation that has seen such a dramatic change in the health crisis. Draper’s report included a video testimony of Uganda’s first lady, Janet Museveni, crediting True Love Waits as the program that has saved thousands of lives in her country.

Draper’s report returned to America when he shared the story of the impact FAITH had in resurrecting a dying church in West Point, Ga. FAITH is a five-year-old strategy designed to train Sunday School classes how to incorporate and evangelize the unchurched people in their communities. Its founder is Bobby Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Two years ago Bethel Baptist Church was down to five members and had decided to dissolve. Evangelist Tom Owensby was asked to serve as interim pastor. Owensby had been through FAITH Sunday School evangelism training and decided to implement what he’d learned. A year later the church has grown to nearly 50 members, is financially sound, has a choir and fulltime pastor, and will host a Vacation Bible School this summer.

LifeWay’s commitment to helping people and churches goes beyond the church to individuals, Draper said. Beth Moore’s online Bible study has built a community of 35,000 people participating from 50 different countries. He said one participant told him in a letter she recently had been divorced and that her life “had been a mess.” Because of her work schedule, she can’t attend church. The online study has helped her get her “life together for the first time.”

LifeWay’s technology division developed and launched an online Bible Reference Library to make readily available studies such as Beth Moore’s, Draper said. The site also includes commentaries, devotionals, Bible dictionaries and Strong’s Concordance.

One of the translations featured online in the reference library is the new Holman Christian Standard Bible, a project initiated by Broadman & Holman, the book publishing arm of LifeWay. The translation, a decade-long endeavor, will be featured in LifeWay’s Sunday School curriculum lines this fall. Draper said the new translation “emphasizes accuracy, readability and trustworthiness.”

There are currently 115 LifeWay Christian Stores located in 21 states, Draper reported. He recounted receiving a letter recently from a mother in Fort Worth, Texas, who had spent the morning sharing the Gospel to her daughter-in-law. Her son later called and said that on the way home the couple stopped at a LifeWay Christian Store to purchase a Bible. As the employee discussed the various Bible translations for sale at the store, the man told his mom he realized he and his wife lacked a personal relationship with Christ. The employee led the couple to the Lord.

In the letter, the mother wrote: “Words cannot fully express my gratitude to your staff and most of all to the Lord for working in their lives,” Draper read. “Before yesterday their marriage was heading for disaster. Now … their marriage stands the chance to survive.”

LifeWay’s two conference centers, LifeWay Glorieta (N.M.) and LifeWay Ridgecrest (N.C.) are the two largest Christian conference centers in the country and can accommodate more than 2,000 people at any one time. The two centers have undergone extensive renovation over the past two years and Draper said the centers are a constant source of “life-changing experiences.”

One of those experiences came during a Law Enforcement Summit last year that hosted 120 officers from 13 states.

Draper read the words of one officer at the summit: “In the academy we are taught to put up this shield that separates ‘us’ from ‘them.’ This can cause problems when we don’t let ourselves trust [our families] or God either. I lost my sight, my position, my wife and my financial stability. I was lying in a pool of blood, not knowing if I would live or die, when I called out to God. I had put God on a shelf for 10 years. After this conference, all that has changed.”

Sara Horn, staff writer at LifeWay, briefly shared about her time as a correspondent for Baptist Press onboard the USS Harry S. Truman during the first week of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She and Jim Veneman, a photojournalist and longtime contributer to Baptist Press, spent nine days covering stories of faith on the Truman. Horn related some of the encounters they had, witnessing a first baptism on the aircraft carrier to interviewing a young Southern Baptist F-18 fighter pilot.

“I saw so many 19- and 20-year-olds, with photos of their babies back home taped above their beds,” Horn recounted. “These young mothers are doing the only thing they know to make a better life for themselves and for their children. The way they saw it, the Navy was their only hope. And it broke my heart.”

Horn ended her testimony by thanking LifeWay and Baptist Press for their willingness to cover stories of faith during war, which is commonly bypassed by secular press. “As Christian journalists, we have a calling to report what is accurate, what is true and just as important, what God is doing in people’s lives — not just in wartime, but every day. And if it’s not reported, how will we know?”

Draper said there were many other stories that could be told about how people’s lives have been transformed through the resources LifeWay produces.

“God is at work through LifeWay and we thank you for your support,” Draper concluded. “LifeWay will continue to provide ‘biblical solutions that spiritually transform individuals and cultures.’