|EDITOR'S NOTE: BP Ledger carries items for reader information each week from various Southern Baptist-related entities, and news releases of interest from other sources. The items are published as received.
Today's BP Ledger contains items from:
The Alabama Baptist
Morning Star News
Hispanic Bible Institute graduates
first Superior Diploma students
By Kristen Padilla
INDIAN SPRINGS, Ala. (The Alabama Baptist) -- Dec. 1 marked a milestone in Hispanic Baptist work in central Alabama. The Hispanic Baptist Bible Institute in Indian Springs, an extension of Instituto Biblico Bautista Hispano (Hispanic Baptist Bible Institute) in Louisville, Ky., graduated its first class of Superior Diploma students at First Baptist Church in Indian Springs.
When the institute opened its doors in 2010, at that time meeting at First Baptist Church in Hoover, 17 students enrolled and completed a first-year certificate of ministry. Three years later, 11 of these 17 students have completed the entire three-year program and are ready for Gospel ministry.
"The students we have, even before they finished their third year, were talking about what God was doing in their lives. Several of them, when they graduated this time, asked for a place to serve," said Cary Hanks, catalytic missionary for the Central Alabama Baptist Hispanic Ministry Coalition. "That really meant a lot to me."
Hanks, who also serves as coordinator for the institute's extension in Alabama, was one of the men who helped bring the institute there. "The institute is strategic to Baptist work among Hispanics in the future," he said. "If we don't have trained leadership, it's going to be hard to have strong leadership in the future.
"We are preparing missionaries to go back to their home countries," Hanks added. "Some of the men have said to me, 'If I go back, I'm going to start a church in my hometown.' We are having an international impact as well as a national impact here in Alabama."
Although the 11 graduates signify a dream coming to fruition for many Hispanic Baptist leaders in central Alabama, it poses a new problem.
"One of the pastors who has also been a student with us was telling us that one of his church members who graduated with him said he feels called to full-time ministry," Hanks said. "But we just don't have the churches open for positions to be filled. We need new churches."
There is work for at least three students who graduated with the Superior Diploma. Carlos Lemus, Hispanic missionary for Autauga and Chilton Baptist associations, plans to make these three students associate pastors at his churches in the two counties. He also plans to open another church in Chilton County, where he hopes a student still in the program will eventually serve as pastor.
Healthy churches need well-trained leaders, both clergy and lay, said Byron Mosquera, pastor of the Hispanic congregation at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham.
"Some of are going to be able to lead small congregations as pastors or elders, or they're going to support the churches that exist," said Mosquera, who serves on faculty at the institute. "They are very equipped … to be more effective people in doing what they need to be doing in local churches."
The fact that students have completed each of the three years is a great accomplishment in light of the odds against them, Lemus said. Some difficulties include poverty, distance to the institute and little to no previous education. But in Lemus' associations, he has seen churches and associations help students by offering scholarships for tuition.
"We thank God most of the students have some kind of support from some kind of church or institution," Lemus said. "We hope the churches can see the potential and help us develop leaders in the Hispanic community."
The institute is a ministry of the Central Alabama Baptist Hispanic Ministry Coalition and currently runs on the support of students' tuition. Faculty members consist of Hispanic pastors and leaders like Hanks, who volunteer their time.
"We do it because we want to see more churches planted and more churches grow," Hanks said.
For more information, contact Hanks at 205-602-0082 or email@example.com.
New Opportunities Available for Appalachian Women at Bluefield College
BLUEFIELD, Va. (Bluefield College) -- Women from Appalachia who haven't had access to higher education or whose circumstances have left them in poverty, shame or some other financial or personal predicament now have hope for a new beginning.
Thanks to the creation of a New Opportunity School for Women at Bluefield College, these women have the opportunity to confront their circumstances, overcome their conditions, and pave the way for a new and better life.
First launched by Jane B. Stephenson in 1987 at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, out of an urgent need to help women in Appalachia become better educated and employed, the New Opportunity School for Women (NOSW) is designed to improve the educational, financial and personal circumstances of low-income, under-educated, middle-aged women in the Appalachian region.
NOSW expanded to a second site at Lees-McCrae College in Banner Elk, N.C., in 2005, and is now celebrating its growth into the Appalachian regions of Virginia and West Virginia through the establishment of a third location at Bluefield College in Bluefield, Va.
"From the first step I took onto the Bluefield College campus I knew I had come to a loving, caring place," Stephenson said. "Every person I met was concerned about others and wanted to help people become better educated and have a fulfilling life. Statistically, we knew that West Virginia and certain parts of Virginia had many people that were low income, especially many women. So, Bluefield seemed an ideal place for an expansion site for the New Opportunity School for Women."
Stephenson said she's excited about the expansion of NOSW into southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia and about Bluefield College being the site for that expansion. Partnerships with colleges, she added, create a special opportunity for NOSW to reach rural Appalachian women who may not consider higher education otherwise.
"I grew up in the mountains of North Carolina in a very isolated small town. I knew even then that women didn't have the opportunities that men had and that there were very different expectations for women than men," Stephenson said. "I want Appalachian women to have more opportunities for themselves and their families, especially through becoming more educated and ultimately having a career with benefits and increased income for their families."
NOSW fulfills that mission through residential programs at its college sites, and today nearly 700 women have completed the curriculum. The first residential program at Bluefield College will be in May 2013 and will include three weeks of academic study, cultural experiences, personal development, job search training, college preparation and leadership development. Participants will work 50 hours per week on a curriculum that includes a distinctive focus on Appalachian literature, creative writing, personal reflection, the Appalachian culture and cultural experiences in theater, museums and historical sites.
The NOSW program also includes personal support in the form of career counseling, group reflection, makeovers, dress for success resources, and health screenings -- all designed to create a sense of pride and self-worth. In fact, NOSW care continues even after the residency with coaching, career guidance, workshops, reunions, internships, higher education opportunities, scholarship opportunities, clothing resources, and continued networking with the "sisterhood" of NOSW graduates.
"Education opens the closed doors that disadvantaged women suffer with each day," said Connie Saunders, president of Saunders Staffing in Bluefield who serves as chair of the advisory board for Bluefield's NOSW. "I am honored to be part of such an awesome project."
The New Opportunity School is designed for women in Appalachia between the ages of 30 and 60 who have experienced difficult circumstances but still have an eagerness to learn, improve their lives and become more self-sufficient. Eighty percent of participating women have family incomes of less than $10,000 per year. Many have been discouraged from higher education and professional careers, and a disturbingly high percentage of participating women have experienced sexual abuse and domestic violence at some time in their lives. Participants are required to have a high school diploma or must complete a GED, so that NOSW may serve as preparation for higher education and jobs that pay a livable wage.
"Research tells us that 80 percent of New Opportunity School graduates find better jobs, enroll in further education, or both," said Cheryl Shippey, director of the BC NOSW. "Given the circumstances of our participants, that's a remarkable success rate. We know this program gives women the tools to make successful, long term changes that improve their educational, financial and personal circumstances."
To find out more about the New Opportunity School for Women, visit the organization's website at www.noswfoundation.org.
Prospects Appear Dim for Religious Freedom in Cuba
By Morning Star News Latin America Correspondent
HAVANA, Cuba (Morning Star News) -- The Rev. Carlos Lamelas knows first-hand the diabolical nature of attempts by Cuban authorities to cripple Christianity on the Communist isle.
Refusing to allow government interference in the internal affairs of his congregation, Lamelas was charged with "human trafficking" (allegedly helping Christians to flee the island). He spent four months in jail and endured years of unjust treatment before leaving Cuba as a political refugee in 2011.
Like many pastors, Lamelas initially ran afoul of the government simply for effectively proclaiming Christ.
"When a religious leader attracts a popular following, the G-2 mobilizes a team of psychologists to do a psychiatric evaluation and determine if he can be coerced," Lamelas said. "They will launch a campaign to gather incriminating evidence against him, dispatch young women who try to seduce him or peddlers to offer him black market goods. In other words, they are going to entice him to commit some legal or moral offense."
If a leader is impervious to such duplicity, he said, then arrest on false charges awaits him.
"The only step a church leader can take is simply to be faultless," he said. "Unfortunately, there are very few who have managed to stand firm and maintain purity against so much pressure."
Pressure from the international Christian community persuaded Cuban authorities to release Lamelas and eventually drop the false charges against him, but many Christians have not fared so well. One Christian aid and advocacy group found a sharp increase in violations of religious freedom by the administration of Raul Castro in 2012.
U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) counted 120 religious rights violations on the island last year, compared with 30 in 2011. Hundreds of people were affected, with some cases involving entire churches and denominations. CSW notes that the tally of religious rights violations does not include more than 200 people believed to have been incarcerated during Pope Benedict XVI's visit in March.
Roman Catholic churches reported the highest number of violations, with Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist churches reporting constant harassment as well, according to CSW's report. A common tactic is the arbitrary detention of parishioners attempting to attend worship, as happened to nine women affiliated with the Ladies in White, an association of wives and relatives of jailed dissidents. Police in Holguin arrested them early on the morning of Dec. 30 and did not release them until after Sunday Mass.
Besides false charges of criminal or immoral behavior, harassment also took the form of beatings, threats to imprison pastors or destruction of church buildings. Reutilio Columbie, pastor of the Shalom Christian Center in Moa, believes the government sent the thugs that beat him unconscious last year.