A Directive from God

As North Texas District Superintendent Rick W. DuBose arrived at the Assemblies of God General Council in Anaheim, California, he vowed to walk through whatever ministry door the Lord opened.

At the August biennial gathering, delegates ultimately elected Doug E. Clay as the Fellowship’s new general superintendent, after incumbent George O. Wood withdrew his name from further consideration. DuBose finished as a runner-up behind Clay.

Delegates subsequently elected DuBose from a field of a dozen candidates to be the new South Central representative on the 21-member Executive Presbytery, to succeed the retiring J. Don George.

However, the General Presbytery later met to submit a list of four nominees to replace Clay as the new general treasurer the following day. That slate designated Jay Herndon, secretary-treasurer of the Northern California & Nevada District Rick Ross, North Carolina District superintendent; Randy Valimont, lead pastor of Griffin First Assembly in Georgia; and DuBose as candidates.

Early the next morning, DuBose went to the outdoor poolside of his hotel for his daily devotional. He enumerated the reasons for withdrawing his name from contention as general treasurer, which would necessitate a move to the AG national office in Springfield, Missouri, as one of the six members of the Executive Leadership Team:

  • He has lived in Texas all of his 60 years.
  • The North Texas District is growing, with various initiatives hitting their stride.
  • He and his wife, Rita, built a new home two years ago.
  • His three children — all involved in church ministry — plus eight grandsons, live nearby.

 “Our life was just about perfect,” DuBose says.

GODLY PERSUASION

DuBose decided to withdraw his name. Just then, Wayne H. Lee Sr., the founder of Church Life Resources, whose materials DuBose utilized to revitalize congregations in the district, walked up to him.

Lee asked DuBose what he planned to do. DuBose told the former Southeastern University vice president that he likely would drop out of the running.

“Didn’t you tell the Lord if He opened the door you would walk through it?” Lee bluntly asked DuBose — who hadn’t revealed such a statement to Lee. “The Lord woke me up and told me to remind you of your promise.”

“That was the turning point,” DuBose recalls. “I couldn’t say no.”

DuBose prayed for the Lord to speak his wife — even more reluctant to pull up stakes than him. When he reached the hotel room, God already had communicated to Rita.

“You’re going to leave your name in, aren’t you?” she asked.

“I think I have to,” he replied.

“You do, and you’re going to get elected,” Rita responded.

Rita’s prediction proved true. DuBose garnered more votes than Herndon or Ross (Valimont withdrew his name from contention.) DuBose considers all three his good friends, and says they would have been worthy successors to Clay.

DuBose begins his four-year term as general treasurer on Oct. 10.

Those Texas roots are deep, including the past decade leading what is now the district with the largest number of churches in the U.S. Assemblies of God. His father, Derwood DuBose, now 81, held the same post earlier.

Early in his tenure as district superintendent, Rick DuBose spent a great deal of time teaching about healthy pastor-church board relationships. The effort resulted in a well-received book, The Church That Works: Democracy vs. Theocracy, written with Mel Surface.

Lately, healthy churches have been a hallmark for the North Texas District, based in Waxahachie. The district has 610 churches now compared to 525 when DuBose came into office. But last year, the district showed a net change of 51 additional churches — compared to 126 overall for the entire U.S. Fellowship. DuBose earlier set a goal of the district reaching 1,000 churches by 2027.

“What God has started, He will finish,” DuBose says. “He doesn’t need me around to do it.”

He says growth has accelerated since the district became less paternalistic and got out of the fundraising business.

“We decided to quit giving money for church plants,” DuBose says. “We declared every church to be its own Jerusalem. We will help with systems and structure support, but we’re not going to pay for it. With that shift, God got to be God.”

DuBose has seen his plans come to fruition at the hands of others before. In 1987, he became pastor of an AG church in Sachse, Texas, which had but 17 attendees. When he left to become district assistant superintendent in 2005, the church mushroomed to 1,000. Now, with Bryan Jarrett at the helm, NorthPlace Church has more than 2,100 weekly attendees.

MINISTERING FAMILY

Rick and Rita Stratton Dubose, who attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University together, have been married 38 years. Rita is the 16th of 17 children.

Her mother, Frieda Stratton, had been diagnosed with lung cancer after giving birth to her 11th child. In an era with no hope for recovery from the disease, Stratton essentially waited to die in a hospital bed. Her mother, Louise Jones, brought her Assemblies of God pastor into the room to pray for her daughter.

The pastor said a simple prayer, asking God to heal Stratton. After he left, Stratton literally coughed up the tumor. She converted from Catholicism and took her children to the AG church the next Sunday. Today, four of Rita’s siblings also are credentialed AG ministers.

The Duboses’ daughter Renee Exley and her husband, Jason, are lead pastors of Life Church in Midlothian. Son Ryan and his wife, Lauren are executive pastors at the growing church, which now has 700 attendees. Younger daughter Rachel Jenkins and her husband, Eric, are executive and youth pastors at Open Arms Church in Lake Dallas.

While he anticipates helping the national office develop better financial systems and procedures, DuBose wants spirituality to have precedence over business practices in his new role.

“My real purpose here is for what God wants to do through the Movement spiritually,” DuBose says. “It’s more about revival than money.”

Nothing is more important than local churches having times around the altar, DuBose believes.

“My goal is to empower the grassroots,” DuBose says. “People seldom get saved at the district office or the national office. Salvations take place at the local church.”

Meanwhile, Rita isn’t dragging her feet.

“God didn’t say it would be easy,” she says. “But obedience is always the right thing to do.”

Rita says she admires her husband because he doesn’t put on airs and he simply tries to live out who God created him to be.

“Whether he is in the pulpit or at home, what you see is what you get,” she says. “He’s led our family and the district in being real, in a world that sometimes is full of fakeness.”

In a special election Sept. 7, Gaylan Claunch was elected as the new North Texas District superintendent to replace DuBose. Claunch had been assistant superintendent.

Source: AG News

Former Missionary Leads Compassionate Relief Effort in Florida

Within hours after Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida and brought devastation in its wake, Southeastern University professor Dr. Robert Houlihan was busy making sure essential supplies were on their way to the areas hardest hit.

Crossroads Alliance and Ministries, founded by Houlihan and Steve Ewing in 2005, coordinated the first plane on the scene in the Florida Keys, which experienced Irma as a Category 4 hurricane. Crossroads partnered with Aero Bridge, a group of private pilots, who flew the plane to a private airstrip, where local church members met to unload and distribute the supplies.

From September 13 to 16, over 25 flights had been loaded with supplies and flown around the state.

“Compassion is love in action. The church should be involved in word and deed. We always go where there is a need,” said Houlihan.

Crossroads was founded just a year after four hurricanes devastated Florida in 2004. Houlihan, professor of world missions at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, founded the nonprofit with Ewing after they realized a need for relief initiatives to help in times of disaster.

Houlihan served as a missionary with the Assemblies of God for 21 years in Japan, 11 years as the field director of Asia Pacific, and has taught at Southeastern since 2006.

The mission of Crossroads is to connect people in need with life essentials such as food, water, medical supplies, and education. In order to work in areas of need, Crossroads partners with local churches in the areas that have been affected.  

Crossroads receives donations from individuals, corporations, churches, and non-governmental organizations. The donations are then stored in their 250,000-square-foot warehouse before being distributed to areas in need.

Houlihan shares that Crossroads works primarily with churches. “Local churches are the key in the whole thing,” said Houlihan

In the same year that it was founded, Crossroads served as first responders, sending over 60 truckloads of supplies to Louisiana and Mississippi, areas that had been affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Crossroads was also highly involved in relief efforts in Haiti’s 2010 earthquake providing over 150 truckloads of supplies. The Royal Carribbean offered their ships to the organization in order to transport supplies from Florida to Haiti.  

Now, seven years later, with the devastation left by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and parts of Florida, Crossroads was one of the first to respond through providing food and water, as well as medical and baby supplies, to those in need.

When the first airplanes landed in the Lakeland Linder Airport, Houlihan, along with a group of Southeastern staff and students, helped unload supplies from the planes. The supplies were then loaded in a trailer and driven to Bayside Community Church’s Hardee Campus in Wauchula.

Soon after Irma hit Florida, FEMA designated Crossroads as the recipient of all of their donated products. The supplies were staged at their warehouse before they were transported south. So far, in addition to flying supplies to the Keys, they have sent more than 50 truckloads of supplies all across the state of Florida, and they do not plan on slowing down anytime soon.

Source: AG News

Meeting Inner-City Needs

An inner-city Assemblies of God church is meeting the spiritual and physical needs of Cleveland residents in an area where gangs, poverty, crime, drugs, and prostitution rule the streets.

A U.S. Missions Missionary Church Planter & Developer, Bob Willard, his wife, Judy, and their four children moved to Cleveland in 2010. The Willards soon started a Bible study that packed 20 people in their living room, plus an after-school program to reach out to children in the neighborhood.

The ministry served as the genesis for The Meeting Place Church (TMPC), which is “about meeting God, meeting people, and meeting needs,” according to Willard, who pastors the congregation. Willard says the church focuses on physical assistance — giving away food, clothing, and school supplies — in order to introduce people to God. TMPC typically draws about 35 people for Sunday services.

Earlier this year, Danae Evans, 22, accepted Jesus as Savior at the church. Evans has been attending TMPC for five months.

“Life has been much healthier and better since attending this church,” says Evans. “God hears me.”

In 2013, the house next door to the Willards went through foreclosure. Because of the house’s dilapidated condition, and finding favor with the director of the bank that owned it, Willard purchased the property for a mere $500. TMPC has been holding services at the residence since November 2015.

“We have since renovated the house and have many great stories of God’s provision,” says Willard, 56. “We use it 100 percent for ministry: church, after-school program, missions teams, outreach, and summer interns.”

This summer, the bank donated to the church another nearby foreclosed building, which previously served as a tavern.

“It was a quit claim deed,” Willard says. “No cost, no strings attached, just a free building!”

The structure is being remodeled, and when completed will feature the church’s main sanctuary, a Christian coffeehouse, Christian counseling services, and a community food pantry, according to Willard.

“I’m trusting the Lord to spark the hearts of believers to provide the resources and missions teams to help us transform this old tavern into a house of worship,” Willard says.

TMPC’s ministry to bring hope and restoration to the fractured families and broken lives of Cleveland’s east side is a tough challenge.

“Prostitution and drug dealing is rampant up and down the street,” Willard says. “We need continual prayer in this spiritual battle.”

Dan J. Miller, superintendent of the AG International Ministry Network, commends TMPC’s ministry.

“Bob and Judy Willard have cutting-edge vision that has taken them to the neediest part of Cleveland to reach those that have been abandoned by others,” Miller says. “The converted tavern, better known as the Tavernacle, is another chapter in bringing about community change and the gospel to the heart of the city.”

Missionary Church Planters & Developers Senior Director Darlene Robison also is a vocal supporter.

“The Willard family have followed the incarnational model of Christ, living among the people with love, generosity, and consistency,” Robison says. “They have been good stewards of everything God has placed in their hands, and the gift of this wonderful building will expand their capacity to serve.”
Source: AG News

Encore Performance

The Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is adding an extra season-ending performance to benefit a trio of Assemblies of God ministries.

The 150 cast and crew members involved in the production have agreed to waive their pay for the Oct. 29 show, according to Kent Butler, director of marketing for the play, now in its 49th season. Such a plan has been discussed for several years, says Butler, who also is children’s pastor at Berryville First Assembly. Around 40 of the actors attend the church.

Proceeds from the evening’s sales will be donated to Light for the Lost, Adult & Teen Challenge USA, and Convoy of Hope.

Discount tickets for adults, youth, and children are available for the performance in the 4,100-seat amphitheater in the midst of forested hills, one of only three Sunday evening shows for the year.

The Great Passion Play depicts the last week of Christ’s life on earth, including the Crucifixion and the Ascension. The panoramic 550-foot-wide, three-story set is the size of two football fields. As many as six scenes occur simultaneously. Women gather water from a well. Men mingle in the marketplace. Pharisees debate in the temple. Roman soldiers guard prisoners. In addition to roaring chariots, bustling streets are filled with camels, horses, donkeys, and sheep.

Altogether, the show features 150 actors from a multitude of area congregations. Some are retirees, others have full-time jobs. The Great Passion Play has a $2 million annual operating budget, which covers everything from feeding animals to lighting the amphitheater.

Butler’s father, Berryville First Assembly Pastor Keith Butler, has been involved with the play for a quarter century, and is now its chief administrator.

“We look at it as an outreach ministry,” says Keith Butler, who has been pastor of First Assembly for 36 years. “I believe in the ministry thrust of the Great Passion Play as a spectacular demonstration of the greatest historical event ever.”

Kent Butler says seeing the suffering and resurrection of Christ at the Great Passion Play as a 5-year-old Royal Ranger helped him grasp the veracity of the gospel. Now 28, Butler has performed in the play for a dozen years.

“I turned 16, got my driver’s license, and became a Roman soldier,” he remembers. He graduated to the role of Judas Iscariot, but now is one of two players who rotate as Jesus Christ. Butler’s wife, Mallory, has been in the play since depicting a lame girl at age 5. Today, she is wardrobe manager. Her father, Rick Mann, spent years portraying Jesus before aging out and becoming Satan. It’s a true family business, with even Kent and Mallory’s dog, a pharaoh hound, involved in the production.

Keith Butler, 66, himself sensed an array of emotions the first night he witnessed his son being flogged while portraying Jesus.

“It gave me a whole new understanding of what God the Father must have felt when he saw His Son beaten,” Butler says.

Since it opened in 1968, more than 7.8 million people have watched the Great Passion Play in the hamlet of 2,000 residents. Attendance peaked at 289,212 in 1992 during 140 presentations.

Four years ago, the number of annual performances (May through October) decreased to 80 from 110, yet attendance has held steady at 50,000. Kent Butler is convinced the Great Passion Play will continue to find an audience amid a high-tech culture.

“Even in an internet and movie-driven world, people still want to see the spectacle of a play come to life,” he says. “Actors on stage plus live animals brings the realness of the passion story to the forefront.”

Butler has implemented more aggressive marketing strategies, including convincing seven church youth groups to spend a week working at the camp over the summer in exchange for hearty meals and dormitory lodging.

“We’re trying to reach this younger generation to see the Word of God come to life on stage and in their own lives,” Butler says.

Debbie Peeples, youth pastor at Harrah First Assembly in Oklahoma, brought 10 teenagers on a mission trip to the Great Passion Play in June. The youngsters did everything from landscaping to painting a horse barn. For a couple of evenings they portrayed extras, much to the delight of the 35 adults from the church who made the five-hour drive to see the play.

“Even though they had heard the story before, when kids see Jesus close up hit with a whip, it makes an impact,” Peeples says. “We would love to make this an annual trip.”

Kent Butler believes the 50th season next year will be as relevant as ever.

“In a world with so much pain and sorrow, we need this play to show people hope,” Butler says. “We pray that people come as they feel led by the Holy Spirit to renew their Christian faith.”

Source: AG News

Despite Challenges, Churches are Multiplying in Ukraine<br />

Across Ukraine, a nation just slightly smaller than the state of Texas, 28,000 villages exist. Large or small, most of them need churches. More accurately, most of them need willing church planters, because the resources for the buildings are already promised.

In a remarkable turn of events, the provision of physical church facilities is being met thanks to God’s tremendous blessing on a handful of Ukrainian businessmen who are also Pentecostal Christians. Partnering with the Pentecostal Union (the AG’s sister denomination in Europe) and AGWM missionaries Gerald and Jane Dollar, these entrepreneurs are using their wealth to build churches and Christian schools across Ukraine.

Qualified men and women are urgently needed to fill the newly built pulpits. Considering the Pentecostal Union’s goal of planting 400 new churches by the year 2020, that is no small task.

During the Soviet era, Christians were blocked from both employment and education. As a result, no one could be formally trained in Bible or theology. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Evangel Theological Seminary (where Gerald, an experienced missionary builder, oversaw the facility’s construction), Kiev Bible Institute, and other Ukrainian Bible schools have leapt into action to make up for lost time.

In September 2015, Evangel Theological Seminary launched the first Russian-language Doctor of Practical Theology program in the former Soviet Union. ETS has also launched an aggressive, expedited program for church planters.

“Things have changed in Ukraine,” states ETS President Vasiliy Voytovich. “We don’t just have open doors, we are all together free of doors. But we must seize this opportunity and plant as many churches as we can before doors reappear and are closed. Our task is to prepare and send leaders to new churches.”

His wife, Lyubov, adds, “This is not something we can put off. These opportunities are totally unusual. It would be easy to miss something in our sense of urgency. Please pray that we will have the wisdom to catch and realize what God wants us to do in the midst of what He is doing so quickly. We don’t want to miss anything that He needs us to do.”

Lyubov well remembers when local pastors were not trained and believers were persecuted.

“Every day I and my 10 younger siblings left for school unsure if we would even get home to see our parents,” she says. “The government was threatening to take us from them unless they raised us as atheists. So, I know that what we have opportunity to do now is important!”

Students from across Ukraine are rapidly filling these training programs. Some are first-generation Christians, some are fifth-generation. Some are former musicians, beauticians, teachers and diplomats; all come to answer the cry of those forgotten in the villages.

“No one wants to live in the villages,” Jane Dollar explains. “But pastors must live there to relate to their people and be there for them always. We already have churches in Kiev. So, we’re ingraining into our church planters that they will be going into villages to serve those without hope.”

Ukrainian church leaders in Kiev also want to minister in eastern Ukraine, where what some call “Europe’s forgotten war” still rages. Every day, conflict costs more lives, and suffering for the living intensifies. Yet, that suffering has brought an increased openness to the gospel.

In the post-Soviet landscape, there are unique challenges to building the kingdom of God. Many differences exist among evangelicals. Gerald has become skilled at mediation and conflict resolution. Sometimes conflicts, and even splits, are unavoidable. “Conflict is always challenging,” he admits, “but despite the differences, we must see our churches multiply.”

Excerpted from the October 2017 WorldView magazine article “Where the Church Was Not.” To subscribe or to read a free e-zine, click here.
Source: AG News

Remote Beauty

What could be a more fitting facility for a church plant in the middle of a cornfield in Ohio than a beautifully restored barn? Members and guests at Hope Church in Plain City, Ohio, a town of around 4,300 people, regularly enjoy the beauty and history of the wonderful space.

 

But how did they end up in a barn? 
 
Pastors Julie A. Pratt and her husband, Shelby J. Pratt
, began to sense the Lord leading them to plant a church in their area in 2013. Both had been in vocational ministry for more than 20 years, but had never entertained the idea of starting a congregation. They questioned whether they had the stamina for all the physical demands that a launch entails.  
 
“I wondered if we were experiencing a midlife crisis, or if we were making a move that was going to blow up in our faces,” recalls Julie, 42. 
 
But she says the Lord patiently and lovingly continued to put the needs of the community before them.  
 
“Plain City looks like a Christian community on paper, one that should be full of believers,” says Julie. “But opioid use and teen suicide are major problems. Some are even using the word epidemic. The academic term is suicide contagion.” 

 

Hope Church started in February 2016, initially meeting on Saturday evenings in a temporary location. Julie serves as the lead pastor, and works bivocationally as a family specialist and teacher in the local school. Shelby, 46, is the volunteer executive pastor whose primary job is finance director for the Assemblies of God Ohio Ministry Network. Hope Church is a parent-affiliated church of The Dwelling Place in Holland, Ohio. Josh Plaisance and his wife, Stacey, are not only ministry partners, but also good friends. 

“Julie and Shelby have an ability to gather a crew of leaders to work with them,” Plaisance says. “Rural planting isn’t about explosive growth, but it’s about consistency and willing to dig in and hold on for the long run. Julie and Shelby’s character and personalities fit that definition.”

 
Last December, the Pratts wanted to host a Christmas Eve service in a different location and Julie contacted the owner of a restored barn as a possible location for the event. She had attended a banquet there earlier, and knew that the Brethren church, which had been meeting in the facility, was about to move. The owner, a professional remodeler who had worked on the barn, wanted it to remain a church. He recognized Julie from her work in the school and offered to rent the facility to Hope Church.

 

The beautifully reconstructed barn has 3,400 square feet with a main auditorium, two dedicated children’s ministry rooms, a room for mothers to take small children, and a spacious kitchen. Most of the woodwork has been done with reclaimed timber to maintain an authentic look.
  
Because of Julie’s work in the local school, Shelby says the church has found favor with students in the community. Hope Church periodically hosts worship nights that draw 100 teens. Up to 150 students regularly attend the weekly Wednesday morning breakfast and prayer time at a local restaurant. Julie’s work as a family specialist
also gives her ample opportunities to work with families in crisis and to connect with other pastors in the community.


Source: AG News

The Light of the World — An Application<br />

In his pair of articles focused on the phrase, “The Light of the World” (which can be found here: Part One; and here: Part Two), Dr. Wave Nunnally refers to the Gospel of John – noting Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). In Matthew, Jesus declared to His followers, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (5:14). These verses quickly recall to mind the song of my childhood, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” — reflecting Jesus’ command to action.

Jesus’ location played an important geographical role in His narrative. He used everyday objects and landscapes as an exclamation point to His message. The lake of Galilee sits more than 600 feet below sea level, with hills surrounding on most sides. When evening approaches, all lights surrounding the lake begin to dot the landscape. None can be hidden. I recall seeing a single light at Capernaum from across the lake, using it as an identifier still today. I imagine Jesus speaking the words in Matthew while pointing out the brightly lit hilltop city of Susita, “You are the light of the world…” (5:14).

Practically, what does it mean to be the “light of the world”? How does it affect how we live our daily lives? Looking at the life of Jesus, we find Him teaching: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Jesus places a great deal of emphasis on how we are to live. Jesus gave us a simple “cheat-sheet” by summarizing the 10 commandments into two: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:38). Simply put, love God, love neighbor. How? We show our love for God by how we treat/love our neighbors, His children. Loving your neighbors as yourself and recognizing they are created in the image of God is the way “to let your light so shine” (Matthew 5:16).

Jesus further emphasized the “how” by stating the following in the Lord’s Prayer, “…your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). Essentially, God’s kingdom comes, wherever His will is being done. Remember, at all times, we are either professing the name of God or defiling the name of God. Our “light” shines by how we live out our faith before and towards our fellow-human beings – those persons created in the image of God. In other words, know that “your light so shines before men” (5:16), wherever we are proclaiming the name of God by righteous words or deeds. Our life walk determines our faith, which is visible to others, and our faith should determine our life’s walk.

I still see myself sitting near the lake at Capernaum, watching the lights begin to flicker, one by one at dusk — knowing, in the world, the same is happening. More and more lights are coming on! Perhaps it is the encouragement you gave someone, a kind word, a meal, an offering, a smile — anything that professes the name of God — “…let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

Source: AG News

Looking for Recruits

A chaplain who spent 23 years working in federal prisons is the new correctional ministries representative for U.S. Missions Assemblies of God Chaplaincy Ministries.

Daniel J. Odean started in the new position after reaching the mandatory Federal Bureau of Prisons retirement age of 57. He succeeds Manuel A. Cordero , who remained in the post for more than two years after his appointment as senior director of AG Chaplaincy Ministries.

In the position, Odean will support and represent the AG’s 108 correctional chaplains in ecclesiastic issues they face in carrying out their duties.

Odean wants to recruit as many AG chaplains as possible to fill vacancies in state and federal prisons. He plans to visit AG endorsed colleges and universities to let students know about correctional chaplain openings.

“It’s not just a job, it’s a unique calling,” Odean says. “It’s a ministry. God will equip those He calls.”

In an increasingly secular society, prison administrators fail to appreciate the worth of a chaplain, Odean says. While the government must provide for the spiritual needs of inmates, many facilities have moved to hiring “religious coordinators” to conduct programming rather than theologically trained chaplains who provide spiritual nurturing.

“It’s important that chaplains function effectively in a pastoral role to demonstrate their value,” Odean says. “Chaplains must be proactive and deliberate in showing what they do makes the facility safer and more secure. If you take God out of the place, there will be a rise in violence.”

Odean also wants to see the number of laypeople volunteering in local jails and prisons expand. The department can provide literature and other resources, as well as training, so that the layperson receives ministerial endorsement. This process provides more credibility in the eyes of prison officials, Odean says. Most chaplains, not just AG endorsed ones, believe Pentecostal volunteers are unsurpassed, according to Odean.

“Assemblies of God folks are dependable and always available, willing to come in and provide good chapel services,” Odean says. “They see it as a part of the Great Commission.”

Odean hopes to convince more churches to consider prison outreach as part of their overall ministry plan.

“There are great opportunities and there is a great need,” Odean says.

The necessity of evangelism and discipleship may be more acute than any time in U.S. history.

“It’s a postmodern, unchurched generation coming to prison,” Odean says. “Many are coming into prison with no religion, or misconceptions or biases about religion.”

Inmates have constitutional support for exercising freedom of religion behind bars. Chaplains, as long as they provide for the specific religious needs of various faiths, also have a measure of freedom to discuss their beliefs.

“It’s all about souls,” Odean says. “We’re there to win the lost.”

He hopes to mentor young chaplains the same way Ricky O. Davis took him under his wing. Davis served in the same role before his untimely death in 2001 from complications following heart surgery at the age of 46.

Odean served in federal prison settings in four states, including: a Chicago high-rise; a long-term penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana; a deportation center in Oakdale, Louisiana; and his final seven years as supervisory chaplain at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. His replacement at that facility, Michael J. Ramey, also is an AG chaplain.

Cordero notes that Odean also spent 15 years as a chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserves, including a year ministering to inmates at Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.

“He has a pastor’s heart and is very engaging,” Cordero says. “He brings a good mixture of skills and experience.”

Odean and his wife of 34 years, Brenda, have three grown children.

Source: AG News

Southeastern Launches a Master's in Social Work<br />

Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, launched the first evangelical Master of Social Work degree (MSW) in the state of Florida in August. The cohort began its initial class with an enrollment of 25 students, surpassing the initial projection of 12 students.

“Starting a Master of Social Work (MSW) program was a dream of the Southeastern University social work faculty and undergraduate students for many years,” says Dr. Erica Sirrine, dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. “Our alumni frequently shared their desire to attend a graduate social work program at an evangelical, Christ-centered institution. SEU is grateful to now provide students with this opportunity.”

The program has a clinical specialization where students will gain counseling and psychotherapy skills and includes a course in social work administration to prepare graduates for future leadership positions. The program offers in-person classes two evenings a week in eight-week sessions. Students who have earned an undergraduate degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) may apply for the “Advanced-Standing” MSW degree, which can be completed in two semesters (nine months).

“The mission of the Master of Social Work program at Southeastern University,” observes Sirrine, “is to equip students to become competent clinical social work practitioners who will enhance the quality of life in their local communities and beyond by modeling Christ’s example of demonstrating love, grace, compassion, and respect to diverse clients across a variety of practice settings.”

Dr. Johnny Jones, a recent faculty hire, serves as the Director of the MSW program. Jones has more than 25 years of experience as a social worker, social work educator, and social work administrator in both public and private faith-based institutions. Jones has worked as a faculty member at the University of South Carolina and Baylor University. At Baylor, he served as the director of the MSW program.

“Social Work is a noble profession of caring, knowing, and serving with its historical beginnings rooted firmly in the church,” Jones says. “Our primary objective is to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to be competent social workers. That is, of course, the objective of all accredited social work programs.”

Master of Social Work practitioners are employed in a variety of settings, including private practices, family and mental health counseling centers, schools, hospitals, military and veteran centers, substance abuse and rehabilitation treatment programs, employee assistance programs, or child welfare agencies.

Graduates of the program can expect to pursue a variety of opportunities including clinical licensure, full-time counseling positions, and leadership roles in social work administration.

For more information on SEU’s MSW program, click here.

Source: AG News

Fulfilling Forever Families

When June Willett Groom first heard prisoners singing in the stockade of a military base in Germany, she wondered why those men sang “her” songs and hymns. She sat stoically as she listened in the back of the room.

“I thought I was better than they were,” June recalls of that day in 1979. But as the men continued singing, God spoke to Groom’s heart as she looked up at the stained-glass window of the chapel. She sensed God telling her she was a stained-glass window, but He never had been allowed to touch parts of her barred-off heart. Through the window, Groom could see prison bars.

Groom began sobbing, as she immediately felt an intense compassion for these prisoners. She stood to her feet, and hugged one of the biggest inmates in the group, much to the surprise of her husband, Jerry D. Groom.

June met Jerry during her first year of high school. They later married and Jerry joined the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Germany, but when the couple returned to the U.S., the Grooms attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas. They then pastored in Fort Worth, and soon found themselves back in Germany as AG world missionaries, ministering from 1977 to 1981 to American servicemen and servicewomen.

While serving at the military base, Jerry began working with prisoners in the stockade. June wasn’t interested in helping him, until that day when she reluctantly went with her husband — and God spoke to her heart. For the rest of their missionary term, they visited prisons throughout Germany.

When the Grooms came home to itinerate, Chaplaincy Ministries, a department of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions, approached Jerry about working as a Pentecostal chaplain in the Texas prison system. Jerry agreed, and served 26 years as an endorsed chaplain, eventually becoming director of prison chaplains for the state of Texas before retiring in 2007. Since then, he has pastored Kaufman First Assembly in Texas.

When Jerry agreed to work in the Texas prison system, June also applied, becoming a correctional case manager. Because of God’s favor, June received promotion after promotion. Doors kept opening until she was offered the position as senior warden for a new men’s prison in Houston, Lychner Unit, housing 2,300 prisoners.

As the prison opened, June served with integrity and earned the respect of her superiors, her staff, and the inmates. Another promotion followed, with Groom appointed warden of a larger prison, Lucille Plane Unit, which housed female inmates and included a 500-bed drug rehabilitation facility.

In this penitentiary, Groom listened to women’s stories of brokenness. She started various helpful programs, including an in-house Girl Scout troop, so daughters could be with their moms during meetings. Groom devised other reforms during the 20 years she served in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. She retired, but has found new ways to serve.

“I never became a ‘corrections officer,’ but my whole career was in treatment,” Groom says.

In 2013, Groom started ministering to families in crisis through the Council on Family Violence in Austin, Texas. She then received the gift of a building that had once been a nursing home. Although the structure needed much renovation, Groom saw it as an answer to prayer to start a ministry to women and children in crisis called Forever Families.

After two years of praying, asking for volunteers and donations, and working hard, Groom opened Forever Families in 2015, in Kaufman.

“The moms and children who come in are so surprised and excited, because it looks like a home, not a facility,” June says. The families come from all kinds of crisis situations, including domestic violence, recent incarceration, Child Protective Services referrals, and drug courts.

At Forever Families, they can find healing, safety, and a beautiful place to call home. Each family apartment has its own bedroom, bathroom, and living room. Families share a larger common living room. The dining area has tables suitable for each family to sit together. A separate area allows for teaching and care of children.

The greatest challenges, Groom says, are the women’s low self-esteem, few job skills, poor education, and lack of spiritual teaching. Recently, Forever Families was able to hire a clinical counselor to help address these needs.

At Forever Families, women like Natalie learn what it means to become healthy and to be a good parent. Natalie Hargrove’s mom died when she was born, and a relative introduced her to cocaine when she was 14.

She is now clean and making a new start with her daughter, Tandi, at Forever Families. Hargrove has a job as a certified nursing assistant and is in college studying to become a medical assistant. Recently in a Forever Families dining room, tears ran down her cheeks as she cut the cake for her 4-year-old daughter’s first-ever birthday party.

Groom, 71, received the Woman of Honor award at the Her Green Room luncheon at General Council in August in Anaheim, California, in recognition of her outstanding work with women and children. She has been interviewed by the National Women’s Department online community for ministry wives.

 

“Leaders like June who truly give their all to serve and help the marginalized and forgotten are fulfilling the magnificent model of Christ-like servanthood,” says Kay Burnett, national Women’s Ministries director.

“I never would’ve written this script for my life,” Groom says. “But as hard as it’s been, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. The women who come to me have only known judgment and abuse. Every chance I get I apply grace and watch what God does.”

Source: AG News