By Grelan Muse Sr.
Inside The Pew

First Presbyterian Church of Houston has unveiled Project Flourish, a creative invitation to the community to helpproject flourish first presbyterian church of houston bring fresh ideas to the issues that face a major metropolitan city like Houston.

According to the church’s May 2 announcement, it has set aside $250,000 for a social-entrepreneurship contest that seeks to grow new creative ideas from the community and mobilize Houstonians to seek city-wide renewal and transformational change.

“Every neighborhood in Houston is home to people who care deeply about our city—and we believe God has a heart to see Houston continually renewed and flourishing,” said Jim Birchfield, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church. “We want to see our city thrive—by offering $250,000 in seed money for creative proposals to that end, we truly want to work with individuals and teams who are seeking the good of the city.”

Individuals and teams who reside within 50 miles of downtown Houston are encouraged to apply through the Project Flourish website.

Applications are open to both for-profit and non-profit ideas, and will continue to be accepted through September 10th. Applications will be reviewed and semi-finalists will be invited into a six-week “acceleration” process designed to refine their proposal and receive consulting support, mentorship, and expertise from FPC congregants. At the conclusion of the six-week acceleration process, semi-finalists will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, supporters and prospective investors who will have the job of awarding funding from the $250,000 pool.

“We are looking for fresh solutions with truly innovative approaches to go after some of the greatest problems we face as a city,” said Austin Hermann, FPC’s Director of Ministry Empowerment. “We are looking for individuals and teams who have ideas in their earlier conceptual stages of development but have some clear traction and proven attempts at implementation. Judges will want to see evidence of market testing, research, and problem understanding.”

Established in 1839, First Presbyterian Church of Houston was the first church to organize and build in Houston. Today its congregation continues to worship and serve from its location in the heart of the city’s museum district. Committed to providing opportunities to Gather, Grow and Go, the FPC Houston community continues to impact Houston and beyond through multiple worship styles, biblical teaching and strategic opportunities to serve through both local and global mission ministry opportunities. Compelled by the love of Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, FPC Houston is committed to carry the gospel to Houston and to the world.

To apply with your idea, or to learn more visit http://projectflourish.org/.

Project Flourish is a direct result of Vision 2020, the plan by which FPC Houston has committed to fulfill its mission: “Compelled by the love of Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we carry the gospel to Houston and the world.”   

© 2017 Inside The Pew

 

By Tonya Whitaker
Inside The Pew

For seven Super Bowls, Nita Belles has brought attention to the troubling occurrence of human trafficking that takes in-our-backyard-human-traffickingplace during major sporting events. And this year is no different.

Millions are awaiting the big game between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, scheduled to take place in Houston, Texas, the host city of Super Bowl 51, on Sunday, February 5, 2017, but as in previous years, human trafficking is a real concern to many, especially Nita Belles.

Belles is the founder of In Our Backyard (IOB) — http://inourbackyard.org/ — and Jan. 28 she officially announced the launch of the “Convenience Stores Against Trafficking” (CSAT) initiative. She did so during her appearance as keynote speaker at “Vulnerable: A Conference on the Issues of Gender, Race, Poverty & Human Trafficking,” held at South Main Baptist Church, 4100 Main St. in Houston. The free conference kicked off at 1 p.m.

“The Houston Super Bowl was the right time to launch the campaign,” Belles said. “Houston was very accepting and welcoming of the program. Greater Houston Retailers Association put CSAT materials and training out to 1,900 convenience stores.”

IOB will also work with local law enforcement and other groups responding to the anticipated increased sex trade activity in the Houston area. Days before the launch of the initiative, on Jan. 24, KTRK-TV, the ABC-affiliate in Houston, reported a 21-year-old woman — who said she was brought to Houston specifically for sex trafficking at the Super Bowl — was raped in downtown Houston by a pimp. According to the report, a Good Samaritan rescued the woman and took her to Ben Taub Hospital for treatment.

In addition, Belles said her organization have unveiled a major social media drive aiming to boost awareness of human trafficking during the events surrounding the February 5th game. The anti-human trafficking campaigner said she hopes for a quarter of a million shares of the new Thunderclap video, “Link Arms Across America,” during the first quarter. The short awareness message features former victims holding signs of things they were told by their traffickers.

“Thousands of women, children, and even some men across the country are caught up in the horrors of sex trafficking, convinced that there is no way out, and convenience stores can be a first line of help for these victims,” Belles said. “Businesses like these can be heroes in this fight; we’re so glad for their support.”

Since founding IOB in 2006, Belles has become widely recognized as a leading voice in the fight against human trafficking. A frequent speaker to law enforcement, medical, civic and community groups, she has also been an adviser on anti-trafficking legislation to legislators in several states and authored the authoritative book “In Our Backyard: Human Trafficking in America and What We Can Do to Stop It.”

“Human trafficking happens 24/7, 365 days a year, in every zip code in America,” Belles said. “But working together, we can bring an end to this atrocity.”

Belles said volunteers are being recruited for the event to help canvas convenience stores in the Houston area. Visit the IOB website (http://inourbackyard.org/) to sign up.

© 2017 Inside The Pew

Special to Inside The Pew

The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank has been able to continue its feeding mission with the help of a nearly $1.4 million FEMA grant.

The grant reimburses expenses to dispose of debris, clean and disinfect property and equipment and restoregreater baton rouge food bank refrigeration and freezing at the Choctaw Drive distribution facility damaged in the August flooding event. It also provides the food bank with a temporary facility to support its essential community service.

The nonprofit stores food at the distribution facility that faith-based and community groups then distribute to pantries, meal sites, homes, shelters and soup kitchens in the Baton Rouge area.

The funds were made available through FEMA’s Public Assistance (PA) program. The program reimburses expenses to eligible local and state government and certain private nonprofit entities in 26 designated parishes to repair or replace disaster-damaged facilities and infrastructure.

The 26 designated parishes eligible for PA funding are Acadia, Ascension, Assumption, Avoyelles, Cameron, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Livingston, Point Coupee, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Vermilion, Washington, West Baton Rouge, and West Feliciana.

FEMA typically reimburses 75 percent of eligible PA expenses. However, applicants will be reimbursed 90 percent of eligible PA expenses given the magnitude of the August floods. The federal portion is paid directly to the state, which then disburses the funds to the applicants.

By Michael Austin
Special to Inside The Pew

Worcester, Pa.– Christian History Institute (CHI), publisher of Christian History magazine (CHM), announces its latest issue, titled: The Wonder of Creation: How Christians have responded to God’s ‘book of nature”.  The issue is a long-awaited homage to the grandeur of planet earth through the eyes theologians, church leaders, believers and a growing number of scientists.

CHM issue 119, contains 10 feature articles; a 2,000-year timeline chronology, an archive of rare artwork, photos, a “letters to the editor” section, and an extensive reading list compiled by the CHM editorial staff. The entire magazine is available online and can be read at: www.christianhistoryinstitute.org. The CHM archive collection of 119 issues can be searched, along with books and study-guides, using the website’s search engine feature. The CHM site, including a no-cost magazine subscription, is a study resource offered primarily for the home and homeschoolers, church libraries, middle/high schools, as well as to colleges & universities at no-cost. It is the mission of CHI donors and staff to make this resource as widely and freely available as possible – donations gratefully accepted.

Long before the birth of Jesus Christ, the prophetic words of the Bible honor the Father’s creation as if nature itself were a “second ‘book” of scripture, announcing, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they display knowledge.’ – Psalm 19:1-2. Throughout history similar reverence has been repeated, as in the words of the monastic Antony (c.251-356) who said, “My book is the nature of created things. In it, when I choose, I can read the words of God.”

The famed American environmentalist and writer, who co-founded America’s Sierra Club, John Muir, said, referring to the simple beauty of a flower, “Now my eyes were opened to their inner beauty, all alike revealing glorious traces of the thoughts of God and leading on and on into the infinite cosmos.”

The impact, beauty and vast unknowns of nature combined with the desire of Christians for knowledge overChristian history magazine the centuries, spawned the disciplines of what we refer to today as formal higher education and learning, expressed through art and the professions.

Christian beliefs combined with the work of influential European believers, such as Johannes Kepler (1571-1630); Francis Bacon (1561-1626); Robert Boyle 1627-1691) and Isaac Newton (1642-1727), to name just a few, helped convert the study of theology and philosophy into an entirely new discipline, eventually called science. For them, this new revolution in thought introduced a new view of nature, a new view of investigation (the scientific method) and a new way to praise God.

Expressing the essence of this issue titled, The Wonder of Creation, managing editor of Christian History, Jennifer Woodruff Tait, said, “Christians have written poetry, prose, hymns and sermons explaining how contemplating God’s wonders led them to a greater love of God. They have created art to capture its beauty; they have worked to farm and tend that which God put into the natural order. And they have reminded us how one of the charges God gave us in the Garden of Eden was to till and keep this world (Gen. 2:15).”

“Christian history has been largely removed from the American public education system that Christian leaders began in the early years of this nation,” said Michael Austin, a Christian commentator. “After years of decline, our public schools no longer teach the Bible’s founding contribution to Western Civilization. Quakers have influenced our culture’s values regarding faith, freedom and mercy. Yet, today, faith in God is being openly questioned and attacked.”

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Editor’s note: This is the part final of a series on a collaboration that benefits one north Texas city.

By Lisa V. Cone
Special to Inside The Pew

Imagine being a busy business owner or a CEO running a multi-million dollar company. Would you find the time in your busy schedule to help a church? Help a community? Help restore lives and bring light to so many in darkness.

This group of business leaders in the McKinney, Texas, area did just that by restoring the Word Church. They areFundraisers at the Word Church members of an organization called the C12 Group — a movement of Christian business executives building great businesses for an even greater purpose.

C12 member, Russell Polk, who owns a construction and remodeling company assisted in many of the assessments and construction activities needed to make the critical improvements to The Word Church building. C12 member Jim Schwalls, who owns tax and real estate companies, introduced Pastor Dyson to a banker who arranged a loan and helped negotiate a purchase price for the house. Schwalls explained, “The Word Church was leasing the building with an option to purchase. We unanimously knew purchasing the building and the home on the adjacent lot was the right option,” Schwalls shared. “This was God at work. Everything fell into place.”

The church closed on the house and building in November of 2015. In January 2016, two families moved into the house. The church remodel and restoration project is currently underway.

The Gift of Giving
“I see this spirit of giving and volunteering now spreading to other sectors of the city to include city leaders,” sharedCommunity Volunteers to Fix Home and Church on property Pastor Dyson.

Many in the community have been led to be part of a blessing that has a tremendous ripple effect. Husbands, wives, families and local residents are all coming together to work on the church and volunteering to clean the building, paint, help maintain the grounds and donate furniture for fundraisers.

“The Holy Spirit is changing our hearts. The church needed thousands of dollars in electrical repairs and improvements, but the Lord provided. A local electrician donated his time and was even able to have the parts sold to the church at a wholesale price. A new roof was required. A roofing company donated shingles. We needed appliances, they were donated. People are opening their hearts and helping in any way they feel called to help,” explained Schwalls.

C12 Group Chairman, Tom Hawes shared, “C12 members are unique in that they are business owners who make it a priority to honor God in all things. Sharing their business skills and talents, C12 members formed an advisory group to The Word Church providing strategic direction, financial insights and business guidance. Truly, their businesses are serving a greater purpose.”

Rising Up to Meet the Community Needs

Pastor Dyson believes that C12 was a God-send and knows that they would not be able to meet the needs of the community and fix the church if it wasn’t for the expertise and business acumen of this group. “They helped us with the details of financing the new building, helped us put a transitional home together for single mothers –all within a budget. In every area of this church, we have been touched by these blessings and partnership,” Dyson said.

The Word Church also helps individuals on the streets or those facing difficult times. Pastor Dyson shared the story about an east McKinney resident who is fighting cancer. She is facing enormous health care bills and since she is sick, can no longer work and pay her rent. Many individuals have donated money, food and clothes on her behalf. A C12 member created a benevolence fund within his company and has offered to donate part of the fund to help this woman pay her bills. Others are working with the insurance companies to help her get the best heath care benefits.

A Source of Light and Inspiration
“As business owners the big question we ask is how can we use our business to do what God wants us to do in our community. How can we get involved and make a difference?” Cuccia explained.

The intangible gifts are what makes this project so unique. Beyond paint, furniture and a new roof, the generosity comes in the form of volunteers creating marketing plans, organizing fundraisers and coat drives, and drafting strategic plans for The Word Church.

“The people in east McKinney do not need a hand out, they need a hand up,” said Pastor Dyson. “They need work, coaching, training, guidance and someone who truly cares.” Providing a hand-up in life and connecting them with Christ is the vision of this church and Pastor Dyson looks forward to being part of this amazing journey.

Hawes shared, “This is such an uplifting story shows how men and women of different backgrounds, vocations and circumstances can unite to serve the community together. We are honored to work with The Word Church and to remember that we all have something to contribute. When members of the community pull together for a united cause, the power and inspiration becomes unstoppable.”

Photo cutlines (photos courtesy of Lisa V. Cone):

Top: Fundraisers at the Word Church

Bottom: Group of community volunteers to fix a home and church on property

Lisa V. Cone is a writer for The C12 Group, America’s leading roundtable for Christian CEOs and owners dedicated to building great business for a greater purpose. She resides in Austin, and provides marketing and communications strategic support for non-profits and growing businesses across the country in various industries.