FROM THE STATES: Fla. evangelism/missions news; La. church honors law enforcement with blue cross

Today's From the States features items from:

Florida Baptist Witness;

Louisiana Baptist Message

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Counseling center wants to

minister to pastors, congregations

By Keila Diaz/ Florida Baptist Witness reporter

MIAMI (BP) -- For a long time the mental and behavioral health of people within the church has been pushed off to the margins to be dealt with in silence or not at all.

Southern Baptists have not been exempt from that.

But as the new director of the counseling center at Baptist Health South Florida's Baptist Hospital, Elizabeth Skjoldal wants to develop a relationship with Florida Baptist pastors and their churches in order to provide a safe place for them to receive counseling.

Recently, national leaders within Southern Baptist life have talked about the need for the church to address mental health issues. In 2013 at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Houston, messengers passed a resolution on mental health, and Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, appointed the Mental Health Advisory Group to report and advise him on possible ways of better informing Southern Baptists about available mental health service providers and resources.

"There's generally been a tension between pastors and counseling," said Skjoldal.

Pastors are hesitant to send their church members to see a counselor because some counselors don't have a friendly view of religion, she explains.

At the Baptist Health counseling center the counselors and therapists offer guidance based on a Christian worldview.

Depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder are some of the common mental and behavioral issues believers deal with. She calls them the no-casserole issues.

"When someone is sick, you can bring them a casserole. When someone has had a death in the family, you can bring them a casserole," Skjoldal said. "But when someone is depressed or is bipolar, what do you do?"

By offering a safe and confidential place where believers can come and deal with these issues, the counseling center is stepping in to help churches that might not know how to help their members.

"We want to help them find answers to their spiritual needs," Skjoldal said.

Born in Cuba to Baptist parents, Skjoldal came to the United States -- with the help of Westover Baptist Church in Arlington, Va.-- in the last Red Cross airplane that left Cuba some years after the communist regime took control of the island nation. Her desire to go into counseling was influenced by seeing her mother help the needy. She says that she remembers seeing her mother helping the homeless and the needy at every chance she got.

"That imparted in me the desire to help others," Skjoldal said.

Prior to taking on the leadership of the counseling center, Skjoldal led the Caring for Miami ministry at Christ Fellowship. She is currently a member of Christ Journey Church in Coral Gables.

Skjoldal says that the vision for the Baptist Health program is to eventually integrate with the rest of the healthcare system at Baptist Hospital. Sometimes a nurse or a doctor can be great at offering emotional support for a patient, but most times patients and their families need another level of support that the counseling center staff can offer.

"We want to be there at all stages," said Skjoldal.

Ideally, the counselors will be able to visit the patient and their families at home as they go through recovery or other medical procedures.

"We're whole beings -- physical, emotional and spiritual," Skjoldal said.

At some point she would like for counselors to partner with churches to offer the counseling services at the church as "an arrangement where the church designates a room, and our counselors go and sit with people who want to talk to someone," she said.

Some people feel that they need counseling but cannot afford to see a licensed counselor, but Skjoldal says that she doesn't want money to be a reason why people don't come to get the counseling they need.

The counseling center does take insurance, and it is currently working to get on all of the insurance panels. The center also offers a sliding scale that's income based. The scale ranges from $35 to $150 per session.

Gary Johnson, director of missions for the Miami Baptist Association, encourages pastors to take advantage of the counseling center services.

"[The counseling center] is right in our backyard; it is right in our area," he said, adding that the association is willing to help find ways to cover the cost of counseling. "Pastors don't want to let their guard down, and sometimes it's hard for them to admit they need help."


Keila Diaz is a Florida Baptist Witness reporter.

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Eastwood Baptist Church places blue cross on worship

center building to honor fallen law enforcement officers

By Brian Blackwell, Louisiana Baptist Message staff writer

HAUGHTON, La. (BP) -- In the wake of recent fatal shootings of law enforcement officers in Louisiana, Eastwood Baptist Church has erected a cross that lights up as the color blue.

While the 10-foot tall cross remains blue, the congregation hopes those who pass by will not only notice the bright colors but remember to pray for and honor those policemen, sheriff's deputies and others serving them in law enforcement.

"We figured anything we can do to give recognition to our fellow officers is the right thing to do," said John Burnes, chairman of the leadership team at Eastwood Baptist Church. "In Louisiana, our fallen officers have a target on themselves. The more we can get people to realize it's about praying and doing other things to minister to policemen rather than shoot them, the better off we will be as a society."

For Burnes, honoring law enforcement hits close to home.

His brother has served as a member of the Bossier City police department for 26 years and is a member at Eastwood. Burnes also has relatives and friends who live in Sunset, where police officer Henry Nelson from the south Louisiana community lost his life responding to a disturbance call on Wednesday afternoon.

When someone on the leadership team suggested Wednesday the color of the cross should be changed to blue, Burnes answered with an enthusiastic affirmation. The cross was turned blue at 7:45 p.m.

"Someone in our leadership team meeting asked if I thought it was a good idea and I said sure," Burnes said. "We had no idea when we put the cross onto the front of our sanctuary building two months ago that we would have so many officers who would die in the line of duty. The response from people who saw it just in the short time we've had it up is amazing."

Mark Mize, a deacon at Eastwood Baptist Church, helped install the cross. Since the cross was designed to light up for Christmas and Easter in colors other than blue, Mize never thought they would turn the cross to its current color.

"The police community is hurting right now," Mize said. "We just wanted to show our law enforcement family they are not alone in this battle. We don't want them to be overwhelmed by these series of events. To turn our cross blue is a small way to say we support you, we back you, we pray for you. The reason we have it blue is because we are grieving the loss of a fellow police officer."

This is not the first act of kindness the church has shown to law enforcement. Third, fourth and fifth grade girls from its Awana group hosted a banquet for the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Department and area school patrol in May.

Eastwood Baptist plans to leave the cross blue for at least a week. Since the cross has the ability to be changed to another color, the congregation will change it to other colors at various parts of the year.

Louisiana is tied for No. 1 with Texas in terms of law enforcement officers killed in 2015, according to the website Officer Down Memorial Page. Nine officers have died in the line of duty this year in the state.


Brian Blackwell is a Louisiana Baptist Message Staff Writer.

EDITOR'S NOTE: From the States, published each Tuesday by Baptist Press, relays news and feature stories from state Baptist papers and other publications on initiatives by Baptist churches, associations and state conventions in evangelism, church planting and Great Commission outreach, including partnership missions. Reports about churches, associations and state conventions responding to the International Mission Board's call to embrace the world's 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups also are included in From the States, along with reports about church, associational and state convention initiatives in conjunction with the North American Mission Board's call to Southern Baptist churches to broaden their efforts in starting new churches and satellite campuses. The items appear in Baptist Press as originally published.

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