Louisville—It was a busy year of missions and ministry for Kentucky Baptists. A Paintsville Baptist made an appearance at the presidential inauguration, two new pro-life laws kicked off the state General Assembly's agenda, and a seminary professor was named as a czar to overhaul the state's foster care and adoption system. A total solar eclipse drew tens of thousands to the Blue Grass, and devastating hurricanes swept through the Caribbean.
Here are some of 2017's big newsmakers for Kentucky Baptists:
Kentucky Baptist performs at Trump's inauguration
A petite, young Kentucky Baptist with a big voice took perhaps her grandest stage yet when she performed at the presidential inaugural concert in January. Marlana VanHoose, 21 who, is a member of Liberty Baptist Church near Paintsville, sang "America the Beautiful" at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"I was born blind, but it doesn't stop me. God has blessed me beyond measure in every part of my life," said VanHoose, who is limited in her mobility by cerebral palsy. She later made an appearance at the KBC's annual meeting in Louisville in November.
Gov. Bevin signs pro-life bills
On Feb. 8, hundreds of pro-life Kentuckians gathered in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Frankfort to watch Gov. Matt Bevin ceremonially sign into law two pro-life bills. During the ceremony, Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, presented Gov. Bevin with a "Guardian of Life" award. The bills, one putting a ban on late term abortions and the other requiring a woman seeking an abortion earlier in her pregnancy to view an ultrasound, were officially signed in January.
"Kentucky Baptists have been working, hoping, and praying for this day for a very long time," said Chitwood. In September, however, a federal judge would rule the new ultrasound law violates the First Amendment rights of physicians and banned the state from enforcing it. Gov. Bevin said he would appeal the ruling.
Webb, Benton couple, recognized for disaster relief work
Coy Webb, Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief director, received the Robert Dixon award at the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief annual conference in Denton, Texas. The award, named after the founder of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, recognizes sacrificial service and lifetime achievement.
In addition to Webb's award, Carolyn and Jerry Gray were given the Distinguished Service Award for their service in 2016 on responses to the Mayfield tornadoes, Hurricane Matthew, and the West Virginia and Louisiana floods. The Grays, of Benton, are members of Zion's Cause Baptist Church.
Kentucky schools may put spotlight on Bible
Legislation that easily cleared the House Education Committee called for the Kentucky Department of Education to develop policies that would allow public schools to offer elective courses in Bible literacy. "I don't think there is another document in the history of our culture, that has had more impact on our culture, our society or our values, than the Bible," said Rep. D.J. Johnson, the Owensboro Republican who sponsored the measure.
"The areas and aspects of life that it touches on goes from government policy, music, poetry, prose, literature styles, historical content," he said. "Because of that, having a course on Bible literacy as a social studies course, will, without question, enrich the academic lives of our students," he added. The bill was signed into law in April.