Author: Loretta Fulton

Loretta Fulton is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience in writing about religion and spirituality issues for the media. Fulton, a graduate of the University of Texas with a degree in journalism, started her career in 1969 at the Abilene (Texas) Reporter-News. She took an early retirement in 2007 and has been a freelance writer since then. She is a member of Religion Newswriters Association and has won awards from the journalism organization for her work. Fulton also has been honored by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Association, the Headliners Club of Austin, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Fulton, an Episcopalian, lives in Abilene and is active in her church



David Kirika, 27, tells his story of surviving poverty in Kenya as a child, thanks to Compassion International. The photo in the background is David as a child after he got into school in Africa, thanks to Compassion International. Photo by Loretta Fulton

For more information on Compassion International and Youth Arise Africa, go to the following websites:

By Loretta Fulton

The message projected on the screen was bleak.

“Poverty is not a lack of material wealth; it’s lack of hope.”

The speaker behind the PowerPoint presentation was David Kirika, 27, a native of Kenya who knows all too well what poverty means. When he was 2 years old, his parents separated. He lived with his mother, who married a man who did not love David.

Within a span of 18 months, David lost his brother, mother, and stepfather to the HIV/AIDS virus.

“At this point I lost hope,” David said in a chapel presentation at Hardin-Simmons University on Oct. 10.

But that was not the end of David’s story. Now 27, David lives in Colorado Springs, where he is director of Youth Arise Africa, a nonprofit that aims to instill godly principles in the next generation of Africans through mentorship.

David was rescued from his bleak life through another nonprofit, Compassion International, whose motto is “Releasing Children From Poverty in Jesus’ Name.” He spoke on behalf of Compassion International at HSU, issuing a plea for students and faculty to sign up to sponsor a child–a child just like he was.

The transformation that David went through, thanks to being sponsored through Compassion International, was nothing short of miraculous. David was introduced at the chapel service by Grey Hoff, assistant to the president for university marketing and global engagement at Hardin-Simmons, introduced David.

“This man has the fingerprints of God in his life,” Hoff said.

David knew physical, as well as spiritual, poverty as a child. He watched children die of starvation in their mother’s lap, he witnessed people digging deeper and deeper into garbage dumps in search of food or something to sell. He knew a boy who woke up one morning next to his dead sister.

After David’s mother and stepfather died, he was taken in by grandparents. Twelve people lived in a two-room house the size of an American bedroom. On most mornings, his “breakfast” was a glass of water–that’s all he had to sustain him for the three-mile walk to school.

David went through a long period of doubting God’s love for him.

But at age 9, the miracle began to happen. He was sponsored through Compassion International by a boy a year younger than himself, Aaron Mitchell, who lived in Florida with his family. Through Compassion International, David saw his dream realized–he was going to high school.

And, for the first time in his life, he got new shoes, something that made him so happy he wanted to sleep in them. But he still didn’t connect his good fortune with the God he was doubting.

“I couldn’t understand any of this about God,” he said.

Then, a setback occurred. He didn’t score high enough on the national exam to go to high school. He was devastated but motivated to find his biological father, whom he had heard had money. His grandmother bought him a one-way bus ticket to the town where his father lived.

David found him, but also found another disappointment. His father disavowed him.

“He had replaced me with someone else,” David said.

However, a private school opened in his home town and David was able to attend. When he was in the 10th grade, the pastor at the school issued an invitation.

“If you doubt God has a plan for you,” the pastor said, “come and see me.”

David was not convinced and told the pastor he would give God one week to put in an appearance in David’s life.

“It’s now been 12 years,” he said.

He qualified for college, which was paid for by Compassion International, and now holds an honors degree in business leadership from Pan Africa Christian University in Nairobi. It felt like a movie, David said.

“Compassion gave me that opportunity,” he said.

David stays in contact with Aaron Mitchell, the boy of 8 who, with his family’s help, sponsored David through Compassion International. The final projection in David’s presentation showed Aaron with his family, all of whom are white.

“This is my sponsor family,” David said. “People say we look alike.”


By Loretta Fulton

“What Makes Us Orthodox” could be read as a question, or it could be taken as an affirmation.

The speaker for a forum at Abilene Christian University Oct. 12 chose to make it both. The Rev. Dr. Anton Vrame, director of the Department of Religious Education of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, described some of the tenets of Orthodoxy, as well as some of the “Nots” of Orthodoxy, as in “Not living in the past.”

He also joked that because Dr. Philip LeMasters, priest at the local St. Luke’s Orthodox Church, was in the audience he could use the word “us” in the title of his talk. Usually, Vrame said, when people think of the Orthodox, they think of the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” or of icons or of lovely vestments.


Anton Vrame

Vrame led off with what the Orthodox are “not.” They aren’t living in the past, they aren’t defined exclusively by ethnicity, they are not new-age or neo-gnostics, and they are not a church that does not change–although that change may be slow in coming.

Vrame noted that it took the church 120 years to define the appropriate use of art in the church.

As to what the Orthodox are, Vrame said that above all else, they are Christian.

“We fundamentally are Christian,” he said. “We are Christian 24/7.”

The Orthodox also place a high value on the scriptures, church fathers, church councils, and theology.

“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church,” Vrame said. “You can not be a Christian alone.”

The Orthodox believe that the world is a gift from God and therefore is good and that humanity essentially is good. Both are fallen, but both are good. The Orthodox also believe that they are called to serve their neighbors and the world, healing and reconciling.

Orthodox Christians can be found in every part of the world, Vrame said. They are one faith, one church, with many cultures.

“We are truly a global church,” Vrame said.

And wherever the Orthodox have settled, they have adapted to the world around them. An example can be found in the food items that the Orthodox have found to be acceptable during Lenten fasting, including peanut butter in the United States.

“The Americanization has taken place,” Vrame joked.

In a question and answer session following his talk, Vrame was asked about the role of women in Orthodoxy. No women are in leadership roles, he said, but women are involved in all other aspects of church life and many of the church’s icons are of women saints.

For women to be permitted to take leadership roles would require a major shift in the Orthodox church, Vrame said, but isn’t out of the question.

“It’s an ongoing debate,” he said.






Eboo Patel visits with guests at his Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago. Patel was in Abilene Oct. 11-12 to meet with students and faculty at McMurry University and the public. Photo courtesy Interfaith Youth Core

By Loretta Fulton

“Let me tell you a story.”

It’s the way Eboo Patel beings a speech. And, it’s the perfect beginning for a talk by Patel, a gifted storyteller. He proved that the evening of Oct. 11 when he presented a talk at McMurry University that was attended by members of the Abilene Interfaith Council and other Abilene residents.

A packed Mabee Room in the university’s campus center heard several stories from Patel, a Muslim and founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, located in Chicago. He was invited to McMurry by the university’s Better Together Alliance to speak to students and faculty who are involved with an interfaith initiative on campus.


Brett Banks, left, president of McMurry University’s Better Together Alliance, and Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core. McMurry recently brought Patel to campus. Photo courtesy Brett Banks

The subject of several of Patel’s favorite stories is Bob Roberts, Jr., an evangelical Christian and founder of NorthWood Church in Keller. His church hosts a Global Faith Forum, which Patel found intriguing.

“How did you come to be who you are?” Patel wanted to know.

Roberts  told Patel that he grew up surrounded by a message of love, except for Catholics and Vietnamese. A member of his church invited him to accompany him on mission to Vietnam to deliver supplies to Vietnamese living in mountainous regions.

“God is not fear, Roberts was told. “God is love.”

Once they met the Vietnamese, Roberts discovered that he actually liked them, surprised because of his upbringing.

“Everyone he met, he liked better than the last,” Patel said.

While there, Roberts mentioned that he had always wanted to start a school where one was needed. His friend took him to a local school and hospital–run by Catholics.

He had to face the reality that he really didn’t hate the Vietnamese or Catholics like he was taught. Back home, he began hosting Vietnamese children in his home. When the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, hit, whispers began about how that was just the sort of thing Muslims would do. A child at the breakfast table looked at Roberts.

“Is this a little bit like the situation with the Vietnamese folks and the Catholics?” he asked Roberts.

Roberts began to wonder, “Is there a Muslim I could like,” just as he had come to like, even love, the Vietnamese and Catholics.

True to his spirit, “Bob grows as foot-long beard and heads to Afghanistan,” Patel said. He took with him a conviction: “If I have fear in my heart without knowledge, it’s my fault, not theirs.”

Patel said one of his favorite stories comes from the Cherokees, who teach that the heart has two wolves, one filled with fear, hatred and prejudice, and one filled with love.

“Which one grows,” the Cherokee asks. “The one you feed.”

What is the cost of feeding the wolf of fear, Patel asked. Part of the price is that we violate our own American tradition, he said, noting that the United States was the first nation that believed a religiously diverse democracy was possible.

“That is the creed upon which this nation is founded,” he said, citing George Washington’s “Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport (Rhode Island)” and the fact that Thomas Jefferson made donations to all the religions represented in Philadelphia.

When Patel teaches at seminaries in Chicago, students tell him their favorite Bible story is the one of the Good Samaritan.

“It’s about embracing the other,” Patel said.

But the story of the Good Samaritan goes beyond embracing the “other,” it’s about embracing a person of another faith.

“The Samaritans were religious ‘others,’ not just random others,” Patel said.

The story is Jesus’ response to a question from a lawyer who asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus asks the lawyer what is written in the law, to which the lawyer replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your should and with all your strength and with all your mind. And, love your neighbor as yourself.”

Wanting a way out, the lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

The Good Samaritan story follows. At the end, Jesus has a final word for the lawyer,

“Go and do likewise.”

Interfaith cooperation lies at the heart of Christianity, Patel said. In fact, he said, the first person to recognize Muhammad as a prophet was Christian monk in Abyssinia, now Ethiopia.

Following Patel’s talk, a student asked about how to face the inevitable friction that comes with interfaith engagement. Don’t demonize the other, Patel advised.

“It is better to address fire with water,” he said, “than fire with fire.”


By Krista Wester

The award, the highest given to Hardin-Simmons alumni,  will be presented during the alumni awards banquet at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27.

“It is bittersweet receiving this award since Charles is not here to accept it with me. He was a big part of our support of Hardin-Simmons University. Still, receiving the Keeter Award is the finest honor I can imagine,” said Carlene Spicer.

Alumni Awards

The late Charles Spicer and Carlene Spicer

The Spicers will be receiving this award based on their lifelong dedication to Abilene and Hardin-Simmons University. Charles served on the HSU Board of Development and HSU Alumni Association Board, chairing both boards during his tenure. He also served 39 years as a deacon at First Baptist Church of Abilene.

Carlene was a member of the A Cappella Choir, University Trio, Sigma Tau Delta and Alpha Chi national honor societies, Baptist Student Union, and The Brand staff while at HSU. She served as an Instructor of English for Hardin-Simmons from 1992 to 1999. Carlene now serves as a member of the Alumni Association Board, the Academic Foundation, the HSU Fellowship, the John G. Hardin Society, and the Presidents Club.

She is also a member of the Ex-Cowgirls, the Cowboy Club, and is a Sigma Alpha Iota Patroness. She is an active participant at First Baptist, where she is a deacon, chairman of the Bereavement Committee, and teaches an adult ladies’ Sunday school class.

“I am grateful for many years as a part of the HSU family and overwhelmed that two humble transfer students could receive the highest award that the university can bestow,” said Carlene.






If you have an interest in helping Venantie Uwishyaka, a Rwanda native who holds two degrees from Hardin-Simmons University, with her family counseling ministry in Rwanda, contact her by phone or email. She will be in the United States until late October when she will return to Rwanda. Uwishyaka earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from HSU and was ordained in January 2017 at First Baptist Church. Contact her by email at or by phone at 325-320-0971 while in U.S. or +250780361238 in Rwanda. She also can be reached through her Facebook page.

By Loretta Fulton

In December 2012, Rwanda native Venantie Uwishyaka earned a bachelor’s degree from Hardin-Simmons University, vowing to someday earn a master’s degree in family ministry and start a missionary training center in her homeland.

You can put check marks beside those two goals. She got the degree in December 2015 and has established her Family Life Ministry in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, and another in northern Rwanda.

To make the Hardin-Simmons experience complete, two daughters earned bachelor’s degrees in May 2016, one in finance and one in economics, and both now are back in Rwanda. Uwishyaka also served a one-year internship with Logsdon School of Theology by working with African refugees in Abilene who have been resettled here through the International Rescue Committee.

When Uwishyaka began her ministry in Kigali, traveling back and forth to Logsdon while doing so, she mentored seven couples. She left them with a message:

“I mentored you, you have successful marriages,” she said, “now you owe me.”

Check that, too. When Uwishyaka returned to Rwanda 2013, after graduating in 2012, she discovered that 120 couples had been mentored by the original seven couples she trained.

“I know now this is where God wants me to focus,” she said.

The desire to make that happen longterm brought Uwishyaka back to Abilene in July to meet with old friends, professors, current and potential partners for her ministry. One of those partners is Trinity Baptist Church in Sweetwater. Four members, led by Derek Montgomery, visited in June and were met by a huge welcoming committee at the Kigali airport.

Another partner is First Baptist Church in Abilene, which provides some financial support, as well as prayer support.

“We’ve been very pleased to partner with her and the good work happening in Kigali,” said John Moore, pastor for missions at First Baptist.


Through partnerships, Uwishyaka wants to continue the mission work that led her to Abilene back in 2010. She had completed two years of higher education in Nairobi, Kenya, and was led to Hardin-Simmons by Baptist missionaries Stan and Marlene Lee, whose bravery still is revered in Rwanda because they chose to remain in the country after the 1994 genocide began.

Those were brutal years for Uwishyaka, who lost 28 family members in the mass slaughter. Those included one brother, one sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends.

The Lees now live in Fort Worth and Uwishyaka planned to visit them before leaving the United States.

Uwishyaka’s heart clearly is in missions. That desire to serve led her to Hardin-Simmons and that desire is leading her to reach out to as many potential partners as possible. A dream is that someday her daughters will use their HSU business degrees to help her.

Her ministry is interdenominational, despite her connections with Baptist missionaries, institutions, and churches. She grew up Anglican in Rwanda.

“I will be serving any church that wants to help,” she said.

One thing Uwishyaka is certain about is that her work is in her home country. She travels to the United States as often as possible, but with no thoughts of moving her ministry here. The United States already has many opportunities for families to seek counseling.

Uwishyaka believes that a strong church begins with a strong family and that is why she is focusing on strengthening families. She is needed in Rwanda for that work, she said, not in the United States. She knows because that is where God is directing her.
“I know he called me to help my people,” she said. “I have no doubt.”



By Loretta Fulton

Never talk religion and politics at a polite dinner party–everyone knows that adage–but what about discussing sex in church?

The thought of that is enough to make most people squirm, but Tom Copeland, a professor of psychology and counseling at Hardin-Simmons University, proved recently that it’s not only OK, but a good thing.

Granted, it wasn’t a Sunday morning discussion, but it WAS a Wednesday night discussion, the second most religious night on the calendar after Sunday.


Tom Copeland

Copeland was guest speaker Oct. 4 for the Wednesday night forums at First Central Presbyterian Church. Jacob Snowden, director of Christian Education at FCPC and a former student of Copeland’s, introduced the speaker and the topic.

“These are things the church might be able to say about sex, but isn’t,” he said.

And he was right. Copeland not only holds a doctorate in educational psychology, he also earned a master of arts degree in religious education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1984.

“I really like bringing all those things together,” Copeland said.

As a professor at a Baptist university, Copeland knows how the topic of sex is handled in many churches. He has heard stories from his students about how some youth pastors handle the topic with students, and it is concerning.

Copeland believes the church can, and should, do better. Church is the very place where an honest and straightforward discussion about sexualty should take place. Copeland suggested five points to consider when trying to talk about sex in church.

1. Good sexuality is very biblical.

Copeland used the word “sexuality” instead of “sex” for a reason.

“When you say ‘sexuality,’ it’s harder to make jokes about it,” he joked.

As if the audience weren’t already a little squirmy, Copeland read explicit passages from Song of Songs, holding up a Bible as he did so.

“I’m reading this out of the Bible, so don’t get upset,” he said. “That’s really sexual and sensual and it’s right in the middle of the Bible.”

In the Old Testament, the euphemism for having sex is “knew,” as in “Adam “knew” his wife, Copeland noted. The Hebrew word is “yada,” which has a deeper meaning than “had sexual relations with,” Copeland said. It means to know deeply or to be in a deep relationship with.

“You can’t ‘yada’ someone you pick up at a party,” he said.

2. The New Testament doesn’t have a lot of good things to say about sexuality, Copeland said, blaming it on writings by St. Paul and later emphasized by Saint Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430, and was bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Augustine did a “180” in his life, Copeland said, going from a playboy to a bishop with strict ideas about sexuality.

“We need to get over Paul and Augustine,” Copeland advised.

3. We need to work hard to rethink our concept of of purity, Copeland said. “Purity” has become an idol. The lives of many young people have been ruined by Christians who have idolized purity, he said. Too often, they are told by church leaders that losing their sexual purity is the worst thing they can do.

“We’re hurting lots of kids the way we do it,” he said.

4. Sexual diversity may be the most difficult issue facing the church, Copeland said.

“We have to figure out how Jesus would respond to those people,” he said.

5. The church needs to teach that good sexuality is not just good and holy but can be more.

“Good sexuality within a relationship can be transcendent,” Copeland said. “We have a chance to get over ourselves.”

By the time Copeland finished his prepared remarks and answered several questions from the audience, nobody was squirming. Instead, they were reflecting on what Copeland had said and perhaps agreeing with the closing comments from Cliff Stewart, pastor of First Central Presbyterian Church.

“I think I heard the gospel here tonight,” Stewart said.