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NYC relief, Afghan children tug at seminarians’ hearts

DECATUR, Ga. (BP)–Using a fireman’s hat as an offering plate, students at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s North Georgia campus raised $1,000 for the Georgia Baptist Convention to be used in disaster relief efforts in New York City.

Students at the North Georgia campus were deeply affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and wanted to make a difference in its wake, said Margie Williamson, associate director of NOBTS’ extension center system. Raising money to help the Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief efforts just made sense, she said. Recent Georgia Baptist Convention efforts include helping clean apartments of residents who live near the disaster site in New York.

Spearheaded by Jason Young, a master of divinity student who serves as North Georgia campus’ student body president, students and faculty on the campus raised exactly $1,000 by passing around a fireman’s hat in each class and at chapel services.

“It was important that each person actually touch the fireman’s hat,” said Young. The hat belongs to Phil Thomas, another NOBTS student, who recently retired at the rank of captain after 26 years as a fireman in Fulton County, Ga.

Thomas remembers sitting for two days watching the news coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks. Even though he had years of training and experience in firefighting and emergency medical response, he knew that only Jesus could be counted on during crises. “You never know what is going to happen from minute to minute,” said the grandfather of two. “All the years of experience won’t help you out of a bind. The only thing that you can count on is Jesus Christ.”

Currently serving as pastor of Appalachia Baptist Church in Morganton, Ga., Thomas earned his bachelor of arts degree at the NOBTS extension center and will soon complete his master of divinity there. Except for the on-campus requirement of 33 hours for his undergraduate work and 30 hours for his graduate work, which Thomas accomplished through week-long workshops in New Orleans, Thomas was able to complete his degree where he lived.

The North Georgia campus, located in Decatur, Ga., is the largest of the seminary’s 16 extension centers.

Also in an expression of compassion, students in spiritual formation classes at NOBTS’ main campus raised money and collected coats for homeless children affected by the conflict in Afghanistan.

“The coats are an attempt to help children cope with the cold, harsh reality of war,” said Perry Hancock, the associate professor of discipleship who organized the effort on campus, working through a partnership with First Baptist Church in Kenner, La., and Children2Children, a nonprofit organization dedicated to international relief assistance.

Hancock noted that winter temperatures in the region can drop to 24 degrees below zero. Because of the war, most of the Afghan children are now homeless or are in Afghan or Pakistani refugee camps, he said.

“This is a Matthew 25 ministry,” he said, referring to the Bible passage that identifies Christians who have joyfully given to help those in hunger, thirst or in need of clothing. “It is a great opportunity not only to share the gospel but to show the gospel … through love, care and a positive witness,” he said, pointing out that many of the children were forced from their homes without having the time to take needed clothing.

Shawn Justice, a member of Hancock’s spiritual formation class, agreed. “We saw the children’s need for warm coats and responded directly to that need,” he said. “As a Christian, you just naturally want to help in any way that you can.”

Currently serving as minister of missions at First Baptist Church in New Orleans, Justice has the opportunity to work with needy children on an ongoing basis. A native of small-town Chipley, Fla., Justice ministers weekly at a New Orleans’ inner-city housing development where he works with impoverished children, many of whom have only one parent.

Justice, the father of two small children, Aislyn, 4, and Gavin, 3 months old, knows what it is like to reach out to children, to see their faces light up when someone shows them love. “The children in Afghanistan are no different from my children or the children at the Florida Housing Development,” he said. “They all need love and warmth.”

“This hands-on ministry project gave my students a chance to make a difference,” said Hancock, who also serves as dean of graduate studies at the seminary.

Hancock was instrumental in developing the spiritual formation classes for students. Designed to foster personal spiritual growth in the student and to help with skills needed to lead churches in making disciples who make disciples, spiritual formation groups meet weekly over two semesters for Bible study and prayer. Led by a professor, the groups also emphasize spiritual disciplines, mentoring and accountability.

Though students also set personal growth objectives for the year, the purpose of personal spiritual growth is not really personal, Hancock said. “We are to grow up on the Lord so we can be an effective witness to the world.

The apostle Paul “challenged us to be transformed so we can prove that the will of God is good (Romans 12:1-2). We are to be ‘letters of recommendation’ and ‘the aroma of Christ’ in the world. We are also to grow up in the Lord to be effective models in the church” (Ephesians 4).

He added, “Our students can’t take our churches places they haven’t been with God.”

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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