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ATLANTA — Inside the Capitol rotunda, a towering Christmas tree shines with thousands of lights. Red poinsettias line the staircases. Long strands of garland hang from railings. And a children’s choir sings about the birth of Christ. That was the scene when Gov. Brian Kemp and his family kicked off the Christmas season in Georgia earlier this month with the lighting of the state Christmas tree, a clear signal that it’s still politically correct to celebrate Christmas as a Christian holy day in the Bible Belt.

SUWANEE, Ga. — The story of a 19-year-old aspiring preacher who baptized most of his teammates on the East Georgia State College baseball team amassed more readers in The Christian Index than any other news article in 2023.Analytics show Index readers have an affinity for stories about people turning to Christ. Of the newspaper’s most-read news articles of the year, all involved people turning to Christ.

VALDOSTA, Ga. – It would appear to the most casual observer that Northside Baptist Church in Valdosta exists to reach unbelievers. Northside’s Pastor, Robby Foster, is a Gospel preacher and has led his church to focus on the value of the reaching the unreached.

People from across Georgia were featured in The Christian Index in 2023. Some are old. Some are young. Some are somewhere in the middle. All are busy impacting their communities for Christ. Here’s a look back at a few of those people.

ATLANTA — Groups of Georgia Baptists took part in a series of prayer tours of the state Capitol over the past week.  Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, led tours, providing insights into how state government operates. As the groups made their way through the Capitol, they made multiple stops to pray for government leaders.

TYRONE, Ga. — A pastor whose family has a long tradition of denominational service has been elected chairman of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. “It is an honor for me to get to serve you,” Stephen Fountain, pastor of First Baptist Church of Buford, told committee members after they voted by acclamation for him to serve in the position. In the role, Fountain, 39, will lead the committee charged with guiding the cooperative work of Georgia Baptists.

The Georgia Baptist community lost many church leaders during 2023, including Charles Stanley and Michael Catt, the pastors who developed worldwide outreaches through Christian broadcasting and filmmaking.

MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. — With Christmas just around the corner, many Tennesseans are dealing with the aftermath of a series of tornadoes that swept through West and Middle Tennessee on Saturday. Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief teams responded immediately to the storms, and recovery efforts are underway.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Residents of central Tennessee communities slammed by deadly tornadoes this weekend described tragic and terrifying scenes in which one mobile home landed on top of another, roofs were ripped from houses and an entire church collapsed during a string of powerful storms that killed six people.

HOUSTON, Texas — Georgia preacher Levi Skipper will be heading west to serve as lead pastor of a Texas megachurch. Sagemont Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Houston, announced Sunday that Skipper had been called as lead pastor. Skipper, with 17 years of experience as a senior pastor, has led the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s church strengthening and evangelism teams since 2019.

BAXLEY, Ga. — Georgia-based evangelist Rick Gage rocked the Bible Belt in 2023 with his powerful brand of preaching in a series of crusades attended by tens of thousands. In his final crusade of the year, some 17,000 people packed into an open-air amphitheater just outside Jackson, Miss., for four nights of preaching. More than 2,000 people made decisions for Christ.

MONROE, Ga. — Pastors are sometimes depressed, distressed, discouraged, despondent, dejected, disconsolate, disheartened, even doleful. However, that is not true of Mike Peavy, pastor of Gratis Church in Monroe, Ga. At least a recent visit with him gave every evidence that he is a joyful, compassionate, dedicated pastor who always seems to see the glass as half full rather than half empty.

SWAINSBORO, Ga. — Robbie Lane, the starting shortstop on the East Georgia State College baseball team, has hit a grand slam of a different sort in an at bat as an aspiring minister. The 19-year-old baptized 11 of his teammates last week in a shiny aluminum watering trough set up on the baseball field.

Few Southern Baptists would know the name Robert Benjamin Headden, the late Georgia pastor under whose ministry famed international missionary Lottie Moon would be called to China some 150 years ago. By 1873, Headden, pastor of the Cartersville Baptist Church, had earned the reputation of a beloved pastor, dynamic preacher, denominational leader, and ardent supporter of missions, all of which would have been inconceivable 10 years earlier as he lay critically wounded for two days in Gettysburg.

DAWSON, Ga. — Christians in this small southern Georgia town are putting the spotlight back on Jesus this Christmas season, shifting the focus away from Santa who, for generations of Americans, has been the face of the holidays. That shift was on full display at a Christmas party for nearly 1,000 children on Saturday. The jolly old elf wasn’t there, nor were his reindeer, nor elves, nor any other commercialized yuletide decorations.

POWDER SPRINGS, Ga. — More than 200 years ago the Brothers Grimm published a collection of fairy tales about a poor shoemaker who was almost out of food to eat and leather to make shoes. However, during the night, little elves slipped into the shoemaker’s home and worked furiously to make incredibly beautiful and serviceable shoes that permitted the shoemaker to prosper. It is a beautiful Christmas story of goodness and grace.

DALTON, Ga. — A Georgia man’s chance meeting with country music star Chris McDaniel in a Delaware store led to a life-changing encounter with someone far more famous. McDaniel, a founding member of the multi-platinum-selling band Confederate Railroad, had stopped at the store for a soft drink as he prepared to drive back to Georgia. When he walked to the counter to pay for it, a man he came to know simply as Pablo was there with a basket of groceries and no way to pay for them because he had left his wallet at home.

PLAINS, Ga. (AP) — With her frail husband as a silent witness, Rosalynn Carter was celebrated by her family and closest friends Wednesday at her funeral in the same tiny town where she and Jimmy Carter were born, forever their home base as they climbed to the White House and traveled the world for humanitarian causes.

ATLANTA (AP) — Rosalynn Carter was remembered Tuesday as a former U.S. first lady who leveraged her fierce intellect and political power to put her deep Christian faith into action by always helping others, especially those who needed it most. A gathering of first ladies and presidents — including her 99-year-old husband Jimmy Carter — joined other political figures in tribute. But a parade of speakers said her global stature wasn’t what defined her.

PLAINS, Ga. — The chefs who prepared meals for hundreds of Secret Service agents, Georgia Highway Patrol troopers, National Guard troops, and others providing security during three days of memorials for former first lady Rosalynn Carter have vast experience feeding huge crowds, usually in disaster zones. In their trademark yellow shirts and caps, Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers will spend the next three days in the mobile kitchens where they will prepare tasty cuisine served at no charge.

AMERICUS, Ga. (AP) — Hundreds turned out to salute Rosalynn Carter on Monday with the former U.S. first lady and global humanitarian's final journey from her rural hometown to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center in Atlanta as her family began three days of memorials following her death at age 96.

Renowned for its stunning biodiversity, the Amazon rainforest region is also home to a vast array of people and cultures. “People usually think that the environment doesn’t contain and include people, but it does,” said soil scientist Judson Ferreira Valentim, who lives in Brazil’s Acre state. “There are many different Amazonias and many different Amazonians.”

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has provided more than 85 ultrasound machines to pregnancy resource centers since 2004 through what the organization calls the Psalm 139 project. That includes 12 machines, which cost, with training included, about $40,000, so far in 2023.

ROME, Ga. — Hall of Fame College Football Coach Mark Richt will be the featured speaker at Shorter University’s 2023 President’s Gala on December 7. Richt, a committed Christian, philanthropist and author, served as the head football coach for the University of Georgia and the University of Miami for 18 seasons.

DALTON, Ga. — Boxes of Kleenex are always at the ready in the sanctuary of McFarland Hill Baptist Church. They’re for wiping tears of joy among a growing congregation that nearly ceased to exist just more than a decade ago. The 83-year-old church that sprouted from an old-fashion brush arbor service had fallen into a funk, and worshippers were leaving in mass. By 2011, the congregation had dwindled to about 35 regular attendees, and they were shouldering some $330,000 in church debt. They had cut off electricity to the gym and canceled the insurance to save money. They didn’t see a path forward. They were considering shuttering the church permanently.

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