Northwest Southern Baptists advancing God’s kingdom
Don HinklePathway Editor
February 17, 2004
PORTLAND, Ore. — Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) state newspaper editors gathered here for four days of meetings to discuss the state of Christian journalism and to get a first-hand look at some of the ministries God is using to touch this region.
Editors from state convention newspapers in Georgia , Delaware-Maryland, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma and the host Northwest Baptist Convention discussed a variety of journalism topics ranging from ethics to expressing unanimous support for the conservative direction of the SBC.
While it is always a joy to meet with theologically like-minded journalists, I must say among the highlights of the trip were visits to four Southern Baptist churches in the Portland area. All are affiliated with the Northwest Baptist Convention. Started with 19 churches in 1948, the convention has grown to more than 550 Southern Baptist churches located throughout Oregon, Washington and a portion of western Idaho.
Two of the four churches feature ministries that should be of particular interest to Southern Baptists in Missouri.
The first was the Japanese International Church located near the heart of Portland. Founded in 1981 and pastored by Mike Yokoy, its membership has reached 104. In 2003, Yokoy baptized 25 new believers, an impressive number for a congregation of its size. Yokoy, having planted churches in Seattle, California and in nearby Salem, Ore., says God has focused his attention on Missouri with the vision of planting another Japanese church that would affiliate with the Missouri Baptist Convention. Yokoy could not yet say when or where the church would be planted, but that discussions with MBC leaders have begun.
The second was the Romanian Baptist Church, a congregation of more than 300 members located not far from the Japanese International Church. Pastor Ione (John) Brisc, who along with his family escaped Communist oppression in the 1980s by coming to the U.S., expressed absolute glee about the MBC’s partnership with the Romanian Baptist Union.
Our group was mesmerized for more than an hour as Brisc recanted the martyrdom of many Christian friends in Romania who refused to submit to the atheistic demands of a brutal Communist regime. Brisc had one pastor friend found hung in an attic with his eyes gouged out and his fingernails missing, a horrible example of how the secret police persecuted Romanian Christians in the 1960s and 70s.
Brisc told of one harrowing experience where two visiting Southern Baptist seminary faculty members were in the backseat of his car. Under the communist regime at the time, Romanians were not allowed to have foreign visitors stay in their homes, with offenders facing prison terms of up to five years. One day while driving into the countryside to attend a secret class, Brisc and the two teachers were forced to stop at a police roadblock. There was no where for them to go, so Brisc said they just started praying. Three times the police officer came to their car and asked who the gentlemen were in Brisc’s backseat, but each time before Brisc could answer the police officer was called away. The policeman became so distracted that the trio made it through the roadblock unscathed.
“It was a miracle of God,” Brisc said. “There is no other way to explain it.”
Brisc said he received his seminary training by a secret school established by the late Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ). He said they could not meet in the cities and certainly not in public settings. He said many times they actually met in caves and were taught by heroic Southern Baptists who were often smuggled in and out of the country to avoid detection by the secret police.
Many churches in the Portland, Ore., area have purchased theater tickets for members to take guests to see Mel Gibson’s forthcoming film on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus entitled “The Passion of the Christ.” Like many churches in Missouri , churches in the Northwest Baptist Convention are seeing the film as an opportunity to evangelize a region in which seven out of 10 residents do not have any religious affiliation.
One church, Greater Gresham Baptist Church, a congregation of about 500 Southern Baptists on the outskirts of Portland, has purchased two theaters for a special pre-screening of the film the night before it is released to all theaters nationwide on Feb. 25. Teens in the church, which refer to their Bible study group as “The River,” are soaking up the tickets with the idea of taking a lost friend to see the movie. Then plans are for the group to meet afterwards for fellowship and to further discuss the film.
It appears the West Coast Southern Baptists are just as excited as their Missouri brothers and sisters about the Gibson movie. Saddleback Church in Southern California , pastored by best-selling author Rick Warren, has purchased 18,000 theater tickets. Another non-Southern Baptist congregation in the same part of the state has rented 18 theaters.
I’ve wondered if God might use Gibson’s work of art to trigger the next Great Awakening in America. For Missouri Baptists, it could be viewed as the first of three significant events coming in the next four months. Gibson’s film could be a mighty precursor to record attendances for Easter services throughout our land. Those two events precede the forthcoming Billy Graham Crusades, the first in Kansas City in June and then later in Los Angeles. Please pray for these events.
Joel Belz, publisher of WORLD magazine, was the keynote speaker to the state newspaper editors. Belz, who sports one of the most gifted pens in Christian journalism, told the editors that WORLD’s paid circulation is within 10,000 of Christianity Today’s and that he expects WORLD to pass CT later this year. It is truly a remarkable accomplishment for a publication that is barely 20 years old.
I had the privilege of attending the WORLD Journalism Institute in 1998 and I can testify to the editorial staff’s commitment to reporting the news in a way that remains true to the inerrant, infallible Word of God. One of the magazines most gifted writers, Gene Edward Veith (if you have not read his book, Postmodern Times, you should), offered some wisdom recently while favorably reviewing Gibson’s “The Passion.” Wrote Veith: “Although Mr. Gibson’s upcoming film, by all accounts, is powerful and, as visual images can be, emotionally moving, we should remember that faith comes by the hearing of the Word.”