6 years ago

How a Secret Church meeting in Alabama became a worldwide phenomenon

Secret Church

Imagine all the blinds closed on the windows of a dimly lit room. Twenty leaders from different churches in the area sat in a circle on the floor with their Bibles open. Some of them had sweat on their foreheads after walking for miles to get there. Others were dirty from the dust in the villages from which they had set out on bikes early that morning.

They had gathered in secret. They had intentionally come to this place at different times throughout the morning so as not to draw attention to the meeting that was occurring. They lived in a country in Asia where it is illegal for them to gather like this. If caught, they could lose their land, their jobs, their families, or their lives. (Excerpt from Radical by David Platt.)

In this particular meeting, the local church leaders had not only gathered to share struggles and to pray together, they also came to study the Bible with an American who would soon become the pastor of one of the largest congregations in the United States.

With a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, Dr. David Platt, at the time in his mid-20s, taught his way through the Old Testament over the next 12 hours. When he was done, the leaders wanted more, urging him to come back the following day — in spite of the danger — to go through the New Testament in another marathon session.

Three weeks after my third trip to underground house churches in Asia, I began my first Sunday as the pastor of (The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama). The scene was much different. Dimly lit rooms were now replaced by an auditorium with theater-style lights. Instead of traveling for miles by foot or bike to gather for worship, we had arrived in millions of dollars’ worth of vehicles. Dressed in our fine clothes, we sat down in our cushioned chairs.

(…)

Please don’t misunderstand this scene. It was filled with wonderful, well-meaning, Bible-believing Christians who wanted to welcome me and enjoy one another. People like you and people like me, who simply desire community, who want to be involved in church, and who believe God is important in their lives. But as a new pastor comparing the images around me that day with the pictures still fresh in my mind of brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. (Excerpt from Radical by David Platt.)

The stark contrast between to two scenes compelled Platt and other church leaders to begin discussing ways to capture the urgency and intensity of the underground churches in areas of the world where Christians literally risk their lives for their faith — a tall order in a city like Birmingham in the heart of the Bible Belt.

“We started thinking through, how could we gather together with that kind of devotion to God’s Word?” Explained Platt. “How could we gather together to promote in the people of God a hunger for the Word of God like that? And then while we’re doing that have some time when we can identify with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world and spend time in intentional prayer for them.”

In 2006, Platt and the Brook Hills leadership decided to host an intense, 6-hour Bible study and prayer time on a Friday evening from 6 p.m. ’til midnight. Just like in the tiny, dimly lit room in Asia, a survey of the Old Testament would be the topic.

Secret Church was born.

Even with promotion limited to announcements in Brook Hills church services, 1,000 local churchgoers showed up on the first Friday night. It was successful enough that they decided to do another one several months later. This time a couple thousand people showed up to hear a survey of the New Testament. Several months later the church’s massive auditorium couldn’t hold the turnout to hear 6-hours of teaching on how to study the Bible.

Unlike many of the mega-church scenes on television, the production was sparse. No arena concert-level production. No quasi-motivational speaker spouting feel-good platitudes. Just six hours of intense Bible study and prayer. The whole scene seemed to buck every nugget of prevailing wisdom on how to get busy, entertainment-saturated Americans to show up to church. And yet within months they were talking about whether or not to rent out an arena for the next event.

“We were excited, but concerned,” recalls Angelia Stewart, who was around Secret Church from the beginning and now works for Radical, David Platt’s resource ministry. “What will we do? We had to start selling tickets because people began to travel in from around the country and we wanted to make sure they had a place to sit and a study guide. The costs began to be burdensome on the church because we were printing thousands of study guides, so we charged just enough to cover the costs. It got to the point that tickets would sell out in a matter of minutes.”

Secret Church organizers realized that at some point there would not be a room big enough to hold everyone who wanted to attend, so rather than even attempting to find a larger venue, they opted instead to simulcast the event online.

“When persecuted Christians in other parts of the world come together, it’s a smaller setting. We wanted to maintain that intimacy,” Stewart said. “We thought, ‘How could this best serve the church?’ And simulcasts came up.”

They approached LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the world’s largest providers of Christian products and services, about helping them launch a simulcast. The company quickly agreed. The first Secret Church simulcast took place in 2012 and an astonishing 35,000 people signed up to view it.

In April of 2014, the fourteenth edition of Secret Church included 60,090 participants. At least one church in every state hosted a simulcast and churches in 81 foreign countries participated as well.

Every Secret Church has been recorded and translated into 12 different foreign languages that encompass approximately 70 percent of all speakers on the planet, accomplishing another one of the organizers’ goals — to give seminary-level teaching to Christians all over the world, especially those in countries where they are persecuted.

“Knowing the Word and knowing our persecuted brothers and sisters, and serving both for the glory of Christ… Secret Church tries to bring those two together,” said Platt.

And stories have come in from all over the world about the impact the events are having.

“A couple of American girls were serving in Asia and were able to form relationships with friends there and ultimately led them to Christ,” said Stewart. “The first place they turned to for teaching was our website where the Secret Church resources had been translated into Mandarin. They began sharing the Gospel with their friends and meeting regularly. Then they got to the Secret Church teaching on The Body of Christ — the church — and realized, ‘Hey, we’re a church!’ So a new church was born. When you hear stories like that, you know it’s all worth it. Now people are able to come and get resources and have secret churches on their own.”

On April 24 of this year, the fifteenth edition of Secret Church will be held at the Church at Brook Hills, in churches around the United States, and in just about every corner of the globe.


To learn more about Secret Church or to host a simulcast, head over to the Secret Church website.

(Video below: David Platt discusses Secret Church)


32 mins ago

Britt: Border crisis ‘a result of the weakness of the Biden administration’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Katie Britt on Thursday appeared on News Talk 93.1’s “Dan Morris Show,” where she was interviewed by guest host Apryl Marie Fogel.

During the interview, she was asked by Fogel whether some of the recent turmoil overseas and at the border was attributable to the transition in the executive branch.

“There is no doubt that this is a result of the weakness of the Biden administration,” Britt outlined. “You mentioned the border — it is a total disaster. If you look at the number of people coming over the border, both in May and June we hit 20-year highs. President Trump placed policies and enacted policies that showed strength and got the border under control. I mean, the first thing that we need to do is seal and secure the border. If you look at the safety and security of our nation, but also the humanitarian crisis that is occurring there. We are seeing so many drugs being trafficked over the border. They said they are catching over 3,000 pounds a day, but Apryl Marie, what China is sending over in fentanyl to Mexico, to then come over our border, they said could kill every American four times over.”

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“And every bit of this, it’s interesting, when Vice President Harris said, ‘Oh, I’m going go to the border to see what the issue is,’ which obviously took her, how many days did it take her? – How many months? It was absurd. But I thought, ‘You don’t need to go down there to see (the problem), just look in the mirror.’ It’s you, it’s your administration, the Biden administration’s policies. It’s the weakness that you’re showing,” Britt concluded. “We’ve got to put back Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy. We’ve also got to make sure that, as President Trump did, when people came over the border, they knew that they weren’t going to be placed on our welfare system. Those types of policies, that type of strength, that deters people from coming. Same thing in Cuba. Same thing in Israel. I mean, they see weakness in the Biden Administration, and they see that the Democrats are starting to undermine that relationship, and they are taking advantage of it. Make no mistake: this is why we have to have strength in D.C. and in the White House. We must have strength in the Senate, and we must have strength in the House.”

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

2 hours ago

A new-look Alabama Crimson Tide, the same old Nick Saban

Nick Saban knows you want to know what he thinks. About the prospect of COVID-19 disrupting another college football season. Name, image and likeness rights for college athletes. The revolving door on the transfer portal thanks to the one-time free transfer rule.

Winning a poll-era record seven national championships, six of the past 12, including the 2020 title, has earned the Alabama football coach a bully pulpit. It’s also earned him the right to admit he knows what he doesn’t know.

“I know there’s a lot of interest in a lot of those things,” Saban said Wednesday at SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel. “I almost feel that anything that I say will probably be wrong because there’s no precedent for the consequences that some of the things that we are creating, whether they’re good opportunities, even if they’re good opportunities, there’s no precedent for the consequences that some of these things are going to create, whether they’re good or bad.”

Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban talks NIL, vacationing, sustaining success and a past SEC Media Days memory from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The more college football changes, the more Saban and Alabama adapt to those changes and keep winning. They went undefeated to capture the 2020 national championship despite COVID disruptions such as Saban himself missing the Iron Bowl because he tested positive for the virus, and two games being rescheduled.

Saban explained how Alabama has handled the subject of vaccinations for the disease with its players heading into this season. He broke it down into “a personal decision” for each player and “a competitive decision” on how that choice could affect the team.

How has that approach worked to date?

“I think that we’re pretty close to 90 percent maybe of our players who have gotten the vaccine,” Saban said, “and I’m hopeful that more players make that decision – but it is their decision.”

Speaking a day earlier at a Texas high school coaching convention, Saban weighed in on the newest phenomenon affecting college athletics, NIL rights. He dropped a nugget that Alabama’s heir apparent at quarterback, sophomore Bryce Young, has earned almost a million dollars in endorsements. Saban didn’t expound on Young’s earning power Wednesday but applauded the opportunity for players to make money.

He also questioned the impact that a disparity in NIL earnings could have on the roster “because it’s not going to be equal, and everything that we’ve done in college athletics in the past has always been equal. Everybody’s had an equal scholarship, equal opportunity.”

“Now that’s probably not going to be the case. Some positions, some players will have more opportunities than others. And how that’s going to impact your team, our team, the players on the team, I really can’t answer because we don’t have any precedent for it.

“I know that we’re doing the best we can to try to get our players to understand the circumstance they’re in, the opportunity they have, and how those opportunities are not going to be equal for everybody, and it will be important for our team’s success that people are not looking over their shoulder at what somebody else does or doesn’t do.”

What Alabama does in trying to compete for another championship without 10 NFL draft picks from last year’s team, six of whom were selected in the first round, including Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, will reflect the program’s ability to adapt to the new era of college football “free agency.” Tennessee transfer linebacker Henry To’oTo’o, a potential “quarterback-type guy on defense” in Saban’s words, is one of the newcomers expected to make an immediate impact on a team that will start the season in a much different place than last season.

With eight new starters on offense and a new offensive coordinator and play-caller in former NFL head coach Bill O’Brien, the experience this time around is on defense. Just the same, Saban said, after setting school records last season with 48.5 points and 541.6 yards a game, “we’re not changing offenses.”

“We’ve got a good offense,” he said. “We’ve got a good system. We’ve got a good philosophy. Bill has certainly added to that in a positive way, and we’ll probably continue to make some changes. But from a terminology standpoint, from a player standpoint in our building, our offense was very, very productive, and we want to continue to run the same type of offense and feature the players that we have who are playmakers who can make plays, and I think Bill will do a good job of that.”

So as a new season awaits, Saban and Alabama find themselves in a familiar place in a new world, trying to defend a national championship with a new cast of featured players and assistant coaches. Saban called it “the penalty for success.”

“The challenge is you’ve got to rebuild with a lot of new players who will be younger, have new roles, less experience, and how do they respond to these new roles? That’s why rebuilding is a tremendous challenge,” Saban said. “That’s why it’s very difficult to repeat.”

Alabama Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban speaks at SEC Media Days 2021 from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Saban, who has won back-to-back national championships just once in 2011 and 2012, is heading into his 15th season at Alabama, his 20th in the SEC, including his five years at LSU. The SEC coach next in line in seniority is Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, who’s entering his ninth year. Eight of the league’s head coaches are in their first or second year.

Someone asked Saban the secret to his longevity.

“I think that’s simple,” he said. “You’ve got to win.”

Mission accomplished. Again and again and again.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

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3 hours ago

In Alabama, conservation is for the birds

Whether it’s the Yellowhammer State or the Cotton State, whatever you call the state of Alabama, an abundance of birds call it home. “Yellowhammer” in fact refers to the common name for the northern flicker woodpecker — which just happens to be the state bird of Alabama.

Specifically, coastal Alabama is home to a treasure trove of avian species that nest on the beach and use the area for stopover on their migratory journeys around the world. Coastal Alabama is a particularly vulnerable area, as well as the other four Gulf state coasts. The Gulf’s coast is subject to battering from hurricanes and storm surge, land loss from a lack of sediment transfers, and increased development — making coastal restoration projects all that more important.

The incredible amount of bird habitat in the Yellowhammer State is good news for outdoors enthusiasts. Birding trails and hunting opportunities are prevalent, and per Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism, birding as a sector of tourism is huge. Roughly $17.3 billion is spent on wildlife-watching trips and related expenses, with an estimated 20 million Americans traveling for birding.

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“While our 32-mile stretch of sugar-white sand beaches is what draws people to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach for their vacations, the broader nature and outdoors are part of our core marketing focus, especially in the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Beth Gendler, Chief Operating Officer of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. “The Tourism Office learned during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill just how vital it is that we protect our special environment for residents and visitors to enjoy and appreciate in the future. Birding and bird conservation efforts are a key component of this because our area is part of the winter and spring migration routes.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) Gulf Restoration Office is working to implement projects ensuring these opportunities continue to exist far into the future. Within these efforts, some Service biologists are focused on land restoration, while others are looking to the sky — literally — as they track birds’ migration patterns.

Dauphin Island’s West End

Amid settlement negotiations and cleanup efforts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which occurred in April 2010, one spit of land remained in focus for some Service biologists. Roughly 840 acres of coastal habitat, which until recently was privately owned, is known as the West End of Dauphin Island. Located near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island is a 15-mile long barrier island. The U.S. Census Bureau has designated the area as 166-square-miles, which includes about 96% open water. It offers invaluable habitat for coastal bird populations.

A major milestone on the path to restoring the Gulf of Mexico was marked recently as the state of Alabama acquired the West End of Dauphin Island. The acquisition conserves habitat for coastal bird populations that are dependent on the area. The Dauphin Island West End Acquisition project was approved as part of the Alabama Restoration Plan III and Environmental Assessment in December 2019. The 840 acres is a diverse coastal habitat made up of dunes, marshes, and beaches. Sea turtle and several bird species use these habitats for nesting. Migratory birds use the area as a prime resting spot during migrations. The Service’s team will work in close coordination with the State of Alabama and Mobile County to restore this valuable property.

“Public ownership of the West End of Dauphin Island will allow for the protection and management of its habitats,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Through the collaborative work of the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group, and the local stakeholders, the acquisition of this land will have a tremendous benefit for coastal and water birds injured by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

Among the bird species present at the West End are the piping plover and red knot. These two shorebirds are a threatened species within their Alabama range, and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Piping plovers frequent Alabama’s quiet shoreline throughout fall, winter and spring. Red knots are known for their more than 9,300-mile annual migration, one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom. Conserving this parcel of land will ensure that the sensitive coastal habitat is protected for years to come.

Tracking birds on the go

Conserving bird habitat is vital for species conservation, but so is knowing where Alabama’s coastal birds are going and staying. A project to track seasonal movements and habitat use of two species of colonial wading birds is providing valuable information for future planning to restore wading bird species in Alabama still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon spill. The project relies on the use of electronic transmitters attached to captured birds.

The Colonial Nesting Wading Bird Tracking and Habitat Use Assessment project has been underway since last July. Biologists will use the information to better understand important colonial wading bird foraging, resting and nesting areas in coastal Alabama which will allow for more efficient and effective restoration.

“This project gives us an important way to understand the many impacts that affect colonial nesting wading bird populations, including human disturbances such as the Deepwater Horizon spill. The data provided through this project will help us to more effectively restore bird species injured by the spill,” said Kate Healy, a Service biologist who works in the Gulf restoration office.

15 hours ago

WBRC’s James-Paul Dice signing off after 26-year career in television

One of the most familiar faces on Alabama television is signing off the air tonight.

WBRC-TV’s James-Paul Dice has been the chief meteorologist at the Birmingham TV powerhouse for 13 of his 26-year career in television.

The beloved weatherman is starting a new career as a corporate pilot, flying Gulfstream IV business jets for Birmingham-based Drummond Company.

Dice will deliver his final weather forecast Friday night at 10 p.m. on WBRC TV Fox-6.

In a tweet, WBRC thanked Dice and wished him well on his new journey.

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17 hours ago

Gov. Ivey announces final recipients of Public School and College Authority bond

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday announced the remaining $23.5 million of the Public School and College Authority (PSCA) bond issue to five entities across the Yellowhammer State.

“I’m pleased to announce the more than $23.5 million to worthy infrastructural projects and upgrades to our educational facilities,” Governor Ivey said. “These remaining PSCA funds will make needed improvements to our public educational facilities, which will have a lasting impact on future generations of Alabamians. I am extremely grateful to Alabama’s retiring Finance Director Kelly Butler for his diligence on this project to ensure we are investing wisely in meaningful education and workforce efforts.”

“There is no question these dollars will provide a positive return on investment to the citizens of Alabama,” Kelly Butler said. “Despite the challenges of the last year, Governor Ivey and the members of the Alabama Legislature displayed great leadership by pursuing this important and meaningful initiative to transform our educational institutions.”

The PSCA projects announced today are as follows:

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University of Alabama:

The $16.5 million for the Smart Communities & Innovation Building will provide the critical research infrastructure for the transportation industry in Alabama. Ivey said the investment will position Alabama to be a national leader in innovation relating to mobility and be able to power and connect smart and resilient communities. This project will facilitate a public-private partnership between the state, the University of Alabama, Alabama Power Company and Mercedes-Benz U.S. International with the likelihood of additional partnerships in the near future.

Senators Greg Reed (R-Jasper), Gerald Allen (R-Northport) and Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) applauded the announcement.

Reed says the investments will strengthen the state’s research efforts relating to automotive manufacturing.

“I fully believe that this investment by the state will modernize Alabama’s research and development in the next generation of electric vehicle technology in a manner responsive to industry and with an eye for future growth,” said Reed.

Allen praised the teamwork that was necessary to make the project come to fruition.

“This is great news for the Tuscaloosa community, the University of Alabama and our state as a whole,” said Allen. “A number of highly motivated people and organizations have come together and created a mission to set our state on a path towards a bright future in this important, fast-growing industry.”

Singleton says the investment will place the state in a strong position to supply global markets.

“Alabama will be on the forefront of this technology, which will lead to new and greener jobs for the people of our state,” said Singleton. “The international community is demanding battery-powered vehicles and this investment by the state will make West Alabama a global leader in this field.”

Snead State Community College:

$4 million to assist in establishing a regional workforce training center in Marshall County.

Talladega County Schools:

$1.75 million to create the East Alabama Rural Innovation and Training Hub.

Alabama A&M University:

$508,754.17 to be applied toward various capital improvement and deferred maintenance projects.

Alabama State University:

$763,600.00 for the Southern Normal School in Brewton (Escambia County) is the oldest African-American boarding school in Alabama. This investment will provide immediate improvements to seven buildings on the campus.

During the 2020 State of the State, Governor Ivey announced her support of SB 242, the PSCA Bond Issue for public schools to use toward construction, safety improvement or technology upgrades. The PSCA is comprised of Governor Kay Ivey, State Finance Director Kelly Butler and Alabama Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey.

SB 242 authorized the PSCA to sell up to $1.25B in bonds and allocated money to every city and county K-12 school system and to higher education institutions. 73% of the funds went to K-12 schools and 27% to two-and four-year colleges.

Due to low interest rates, the bond sale resulted in the PSCA receiving over $300 million in premium revenues. The true interest cost of the bonds is 2.145% over the 20-year repayment period.

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News