CONYERS, Ga. — Georgia Baptists are heading into a pair of evangelism conferences with a full head of steam, having seen a 30% increase in baptisms over the past year and a more than 92% increase since 2020. Baptism numbers are rising as more churches submit their Annual Church Profile, a yearly census of Southern Baptist congregations, and, the process, ratcheting up interest in the evangelism conferences to be held on Feb. 25-26 in at First Baptist Church in Conyers and March 10-11 at Northside Baptist Church in Tifton.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  —  Henry Blackaby, the Christian writer and pastor who impacted millions of lives through his best-selling Bible study "Experiencing God," died Saturday. He was  88.  Considered a spiritual statesman by many, the quiet pastor from Canada had a ministry that reached from pastors, missionaries and lay people, to CEOs, U.S. presidents and world leaders. 

DULUTH, Ga. — It’s not lost on Craig Dale that the $8.4 million in checks he helped to hand out to faith-based healthcare providers on Thursday will have physical and spiritual impacts on untold numbers of Georgians. “It's a cool experience to say the least,” said Dale, chairman of the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation, a philanthropic organization that funds frontline caregivers in communities across the state. “And the really cool part is that each check is going to be converted into life-changing programs.”

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ga. — As a former high school football coach, Dan Wright loves the challenge of building a winning team. So, when Wright transitioned from the playing field to the pulpit in a career change four years ago, he welcomed the chance to serve as pastor at Jeffersonville Baptist Church, a 175-year-old congregation that had fallen into decline a half century ago. Over the past decade, Sunday morning attendance has hovered around  30, according to the Annual Church Profile, a yearly census of Southern Baptist churches.  Even so, Wright sees championship potential in the congregation that will be celebrating its milestone anniversary on Sept. 22.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Brad Whitt, pastor of Georgia’s historic Abilene Baptist Church, will be nominated for president of the 2025 SBC Pastors' Conference. Dean Inserra, founding and lead pastor of CityChurch in Tallahassee, Fla., announced Tuesday that he plans to make the nomination. “He has displayed strong integrity, unwavering biblical convictions, and has shown himself to be about the kingdom of God and our cooperative efforts as Southern Baptists,” Inserra said.

ATLANTA — Hindsight shows that refusing to order churches to shut down at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was the right move, Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday. “I’m glad we never wavered on that,” Kemp told some 200 Georgia Baptist pastors gathered at the Capitol for an annual prayer breakfast. “If there was ever a time people needed to worship, that was the time.”

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Thirteen children are dying each day of severe malnutrition at the Zamzam camp in Sudan's northern Darfur as a consequence of the 10-month war in their country, a medical charity said Monday. The head of the U.N. refugee agency, meanwhile, warned that Europe may have to deal with a rise in the numbers of Sudanese refugees if a cease-fire agreement isn't signed soon between Sudan's warring sides and relief efforts aren't strengthened.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — Baseball superstar turned evangelist Darryl Strawberry had a simple message for the 600 people at a men’s breakfast Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville. “If you fall in love with Jesus, you realize you don’t need anything else,” he said. Strawberry played most of his 17-year career with the Mets and New York Yankees and knows about the heights of success and the depths of failure. The 1983 National League Rookie of the Year, eight-time All Star, and four-time World Series champion had all the fame and fortune the world could offer and lost everything to drug addiction.

A Baptist preacher who lived in bondage in colonial Georgia would go on to help wipe out the final vestiges of slavery in the British Empire. George Leile, with the help of the young deacon Samuel Sharpe, kicked the door closed on slavery through what became known in Jamaica as the Baptist War. Leile became a pioneering African American minister and missionary ater his conversion around age 21. He was ordained by the Big Buckhead Baptist Church in Georgia’s Burke County in 1775, becoming the first African American in America set aside for the ministry.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military launched an air assault on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Friday, in the opening salvo of retaliation for the drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan last weekend. The massive barrage of strikes hit more than 85 targets at seven locations, including command and control headquarters, intelligence centers, rockets and missiles, drone and ammunition storage sites and other facilities that were connected to the militias or the IRGC’s Quds Force, the Guard’s expeditionary unit that handles Tehran’s relationship with and arming of regional militias.

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AP) — Grieving families gathered at Dover Air Force Base on a gray, chilly Friday to honor the three Georgia service members killed in a drone attack in Jordan.

ATLANTA — Over the objections of Georgia Baptist leaders, a proposal to legalize sports betting in Georgia cleared the state Senate on Thursday, but gamblers may not want to reach for their wallets just yet. A series of legislative hurdles still remain, meaning sports betting remains a longshot in the state. Senate Bill 386, which passed 35-15, would empower the Georgia Lottery Corp. to award 16 licenses to sports betting facilities, but only if voters first approve an amendment to the state's constitution to specifically allow sports betting, just as they did with the state lottery in 1992.

ATLANTA   — Declaring that there is no place for hate in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an antisemitism bill into law on Wednesday to protect the state's Jewish population from harassment, intimidation or violence. "Our Jewish citizens have experienced hate in the form of antisemitic flyers spread across neighborhoods, messages on social media calling for the death of Jews in Israel and around the world and even hateful gatherings outside synagogues," Kemp said at the bill signing ceremony. "So, we are all thankful for the perseverance and dedication shown in getting this bill across the finish line as we work together to send a clear, unified message: In Georgia, we proudly stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters."

VILLA RICA, Ga. — An organization that exists to prevent and resolve conflicts in churches will hold a southern regional conference in Georgia in April. “I am aware of no greater threat to the gospel and the North American church than internal conflict,” said Todd Wright, co-lead pastor at Midway Church in Villa Rica, the setting for Relational Wisdom 360’s conference April 18-20. “The trauma of a single conflict is often passed down two additional generations. Sadly, for many people, their most vivid church memories center around conflict, instead of the transformational power of Jesus.”

SWAINSBORO, Ga. — A wild game dinner where 55 men committed their lives to Christ is one of the early indications that Georgia’s post-pandemic spiritual movement is continuing into 2024. Billy Brinson, missions strategist in the Emanuel Missionary Baptist Association, said 1,100 men gathered in Swainsboro for the wild game dinner,  some 200 of them standing along walls because all the seats were filled.

ATLANTA — Georgia’s largest religious organization is taking aim at the latest proposal to legalize sports betting in the state. The 1.4 million-member Georgia Baptist Convention, which has long opposed any expansion of gambling, is mobilizing its forces to urge lawmakers to defeat the legislation. The measure cleared the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee on an 8-2 vote Tuesday morning and now goes to the Senate Rules Committee, which will decide whether to call it for a floor vote.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Described by their parents as bubbly and constantly laughing, Spc. Kennedy Sanders and Spc. Breonna Moffett became close friends soon after enlisting in the Army Reserve five years ago. Sgt. William Jerome Rivers served a tour in Iraq before joining the same company of Army engineers. The three citizen-soldiers from different corners of Georgia all died in a weekend drone strike on a U.S. base in Jordan near the Syrian border that also wounded more than 40 others.

GLENWOOD, Ga. — On weekdays, Robert Rogers is a pharmacist, dispensing prescriptions to southeast Georgia residents, but, on Sundays, he is pastor at Stuckey Baptist Church, delivering sermons to many of those same people. Rogers is one of a much-in-demand band of bivocational pastors who feel a calling to Georgia’s small rural congregations. Most of the roughly 300 Georgia churches that are without permanent pastors right now are in rural communities that simply don’t have the resources to support full-time clergymen, which makes bivocational pastors especially hot commodities.

Elisa Reyes has come to Plaza del Sol Family Health Center for doctor’s appointments for more than a decade. Though she moved away a while ago, the 33-year-old keeps returning, even if it means a two-hour roundtrip bus ride. That’s because her two children see the same doctor she does. Because when she’s sick, she can walk in without an appointment. Because the staff at the Queens clinic helped her apply for health insurance and food stamps.

SUWANEE, Ga. — Georgia Baptist churches reported a 22% increase in baptisms last year an an 80% jump since 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was gripping the state. “This is such encouraging news,” said W. Thomas Hammond Jr., executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “I am truly grateful for the commitment of our pastors and churches to make sure all Georgians have the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel. I pray we are building on a trend that will go on for decades.”

ATLANTA — As a Southern Baptist, Suzanne Guy felt obligated to push for passage of an antisemitism bill that cleared the state legislature on Thursday. “It should be important to everyone because it is important to the God of the Bible who has a special covenant with the Jewish people,” Guy said after the measure received final passage and was sent to Gov. Brian Kemp who is expected to sign it into law.

SUWANEE, Ga. — Georgia Baptist churches gave nearly $36 million last year to support state, national and international missions through the Cooperative Program, a Southern Baptist initiative that’s been described as the greatest evangelistic initiative of the modern church age. David Melber, chief operating officer for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said financial contributions from the state’s 3,400 churches exceeded budget projections by some $2.5 million in 2023.

SUWANEE, Ga. — Churches are seen as playing an important role in helping people deal with the epidemic of loneliness that is sweeping through modern America but not as key players on other pressing issues. That’s according to a researchers at the Barna Group, an organization that monitors cultural and religious trends.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of pro-life advocates rallied under falling snow on Friday at the annual March for Life, as speakers urged the impassioned crowd to capitalize on the movement's major victory in the Supreme Court and keep fighting until abortion is eliminated. They packed the National Mall carrying signs with messages such as “Life is precious" and “I am the pro-life generation.” After listening to speeches, the crowd, braving frigid temperatures, marched past the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court. One group was beating a drum and chanting: “Everyone you know was once an embryo."

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Columbus Roberts’ life was a rags to riches story of a struggling sharecropper who overcame long odds to become a wealthy businessman and one of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s most influential laymen. Born in 1870, Roberts was the oldest of 11 children born to a hardscrabble family shortly after the Civil War. He dropped out of school when he was 10 to labor in the cottonfields. From this humble start, with only a fourth-grade education, Roberts would amass a great fortune, be elected Georgia’s agriculture commissioner, make a strong bid for governor, and later serve as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

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