Church for Doubters?

When Preston T. Ulmer wandered into a random coffee shop in February 2015, he had no idea how significant his conversation with the owner, Trax Henderson, would become.

Involved in the Urban Islands Project, Ulmer, 29, was part of a cohort preparing to plant churches on multiple urban “islands” in Denver. In an effort to learn more about the people living in the Berkeley neighborhood, Ulmer, an Assemblies of God U.S. Church Planters and Developers missionary, stopped at The Laughing Latte and began chatting with Henderson, 28. Ulmer asked what kind of church Henderson would attend.

Henderson chortled, “I’m not religious.”

However, before Ulmer left, Henderson said he would go to a church where people could be intellectually honest. And he thought Ulmer should start one in that neighborhood.

While laying a foundation for The Doubters Church, Ulmer enlisted Henderson’s expertise as a self-proclaimed atheist and together they started The Doubter’s Club. Initially, 10 people with differing worldviews showed up on Sunday nights to discuss topics such as “Is God a Moral Monster?” and “Should Religion Have Any Place in Society?” Henderson moderates, as he and Ulmer model genuine friendship and how to pursue truth together to about 75 people who now consider themselves members of the club.

By opening the meetings with guidelines for discussion, Henderson sets the tone for respectful dialogue. Then he addresses the current question. After he finishes, Ulmer describes the Christian worldview.

“We’ll interact,” Ulmer says. “We ask to hear from everyone else. Discussion happens — all in love.” At the end, the group votes on the following week’s topic.

“It’s democracy that actually works — an unbelieving congregation picking their sermon series,” Ulmer says.

Ulmer relates to those with doubts about Christianity. While attending Southwestern Assemblies of God University, he experienced his own crisis of faith and considered himself an unbeliever. He says he had too many questions not being answered.

However a professor, Jeff Magruder, journeyed through the uncertainty with Ulmer. As a result of Magruder not trying to give him a quick fix, Ulmer says, “I came to have a more vibrant trust in Jesus than when I was growing up.”

Ulmer believes maturity is the consequence of probing inquiries. Too often Christians avoid pondering troublesome questions, he says. Encouraging people to pursue the truth, wherever it leads, helps them find God and meet Jesus. At the Doubter’s Club, sometimes that plays out before his eyes. One woman admitted she might no longer qualify to attend the gatherings because she had become a believer in Jesus Christ. The Doubters Church provides the next step for her faith journey.

As one of the church’s board members, Don H. Steiger, 69, superintendent of AG’s Rocky Mountain Ministry Network, says that The Doubter’s Club has drawn several people to Christ. And that bodes well for the church, which launches Sept. 25, one of the record number of AG Church Multiplication Network congregations starting this month. “We believe in Preston and (his wife) Lisa and the folks working with them. We think this is something God is directing.”

After earning a degree at the University of Colorado, Steiger says he has worked and lived in an environment populated by many people resistant to the gospel. He expresses enthusiasm for Ulmer’s concept.

“I don’t believe we can reach all the demographics with a one-size-fits-all ministry approach,” Steiger says. “We have a very open hand and heart to a wide variety of paradigms of ministry in our network.”

Serving free doughnuts from a renovated horse trailer every first Friday on Tennyson Street is one of the ways The Doubters Church expresses commitment to the families and businesses of the Berkeley demographic. Recently, the launch team also took doughnuts to teachers at Skinner Middle School, where the church will hold gatherings.

Conversations transpire that help locals discover it’s OK to wrestle with issues of faith.

“People are asking if anything good can come out of the Church,” Ulmer says. “We have to think of ways to change the reputation of the Church to something that is life-giving and that adds value to the neighborhood.”

Source: AG News

A Bittersweet Journey

Ask Pastors J.J. and Liz Vasquez to define the word journey, and their answers wend an odyssey beginning with bittersweet personal loss and arriving at the intersection of ministerial vision and hope for the lost.

They named their newborn son Journey, whispering the word in his ear with love and prayers for the seven hours he lived on July 30, 2015. Those seven hours defied doctors, who six months earlier advised abortion due to heart and kidney problems they said would cause the baby to die in the womb within weeks.

A sympathetic nurse told the Vasquez family they were embarking on a journey when they elected not to terminate the pregnancy after hearing that dark prognosis.

But for J.J., Liz, and their older two sons, Justice, now 4, and Zane, 3, the journey didn’t end with Journey Joseph Vasquez’s last breath.

In 2014, the then-youth pastor of South Orlando’s Iglesia El Calvario, and former district youth director for the AG’s Florida Multicultural District, felt called to plant a church in suburban Winter Park, Florida. Journey’s sojourn began as he and Liz, a full partner in the dream, worked to raise financial support, recruit a founding corps of Christians, and locate a place to meet. As an AGTrust Matching Fund church, they went through Launch training to receive funds.

The Vasquezes incorporated their new church and chose a name, originally Hope Story Church. Then came Journey, and just as importantly, miracles minor and major in the lives of those he touched.

“When Journey died, everything changed,” recalls J.J., 30. “We were no longer the same. What we didn’t expect was that other people would never be the same.”

For instance, J.J. notes that a single mother expecting her fourth child decided against having a planned abortion after reading Journey’s story on Facebook.

“People fighting through sickness wrote that even though Journey had died, his life encouraged them that their healing was on the way,” J.J. says.

So, the Vasquezes changed the name of the new plant to Journey Church. But J.J. says the nascent congregation, which will hold its inaugural service Sunday, isn’t so designated because of his lost son.

“It is named for the journey we are all on, and that God can take the worst things, the ugliest things in our lives, and turn them into something great,” says J.J., who holds a master’s degree in ministerial leadership from Southeastern Assemblies of God University and a master’s in divinity from Southwestern Assemblies of God University.

Journey Church, part of the AG Church Multiplication Network’s record 75 launches this month, begins with about 80 mostly Hispanic supporters. J.J. is hoping for hundreds of visitors to attend the first service Sunday inside a refurbished, century-old one-time high school. He hopes the congregation will grow quickly in ethnic, socioeconomic, and generational diversity by attracting attendees from the increasing segment of society without any religious affiliation.

“In the past, without meaning to be, the Church has almost been designed for the ‘insider,’ ” J.J. says. “We want to empathize with that outsider, to explain love and hope to someone who has no church background.”

During a year of prelaunch outreach, Journey Church has held numerous “interest socials,” renting out a coffee shop for an evening and inviting passersby inside for a free cup.

“Some would come in, get their coffee, and leave,” says J.J., author of Hello God: How to Grow Your Ministry and Get Your Kids to Heaven. “But some came in and listened as we shared faith.”

Fifteen of those helping plant the new fellowship became Christians through that outreach. Others committed through the Vasquezes’ Facebook page, J.J.’s blog, or after hearing them explain their vision while gaining financial support from other congregations throughout central Florida.

So, while the journey begins for a new fellowship, there always will be the treasured memory of a baby boy named Journey.

“You have forever changed my life,” Liz wrote in those tough days after her son died, when grief was still raw, the wounds still tender. “I promise I will continue on the JOURNEY of faith and hope that you started me on. Goodbye for now baby, can’t wait to see you again in Heaven.”

Source: AG News

Staying Home to Plant

One year after Liz Rios and her husband, Hiram, launched a church in Hollywood, Florida, they made a difficult decision. The nondenominational plant had scant financial resources. The couple also didn’t receive coaching, mentoring, legal advice, or technical guidance to help their fledgling ministry.  

 

The Rioses, who had grown up in the Assemblies of God in New York City and originally had become AG ministers, learned too late the necessity of living near their church plant. They had a building and core group of volunteers, but everyone on the team lived far from the church. They themselves lived an hour away in a residence in Miramar, which had been adapted for their special-needs son. Moving wouldn’t be an option.

 

With heavy hearts, they closed the church.

 

After 26 years of ministry, eight of them as productive staff pastors at another church, the Rioses were perplexed because they felt God had called them to plant the Hollywood congregation that didn’t thrive.

 

The Rioses felt like failures, and it shook their faith. Had they heard God wrong about reaching the poor?

 

“A lot of people don’t talk about when they plant churches and they don’t go how they planned,” she says.

 

Last year at a conference in Tampa, Florida, they connected with Tim Wynn from the CityReach Network. At the gathering, Wynn encouraged them to consider planting a church through the Assemblies of God.

Curious, the Rioses accepted an invitation to attend a training session of the AG Church Multiplication Network, the Fellowship’s church planting arm. At the session, Jason Exley, co-lead pastor of Life Church in Midlothian, Texas, counseled planters to start a congregation in close proximity to where they lived.

After their experience in Hollywood, the Rioses concurred the only place they could do that was Miramar, their home since 2007. But Miramar wasn’t a needy inner-city community like those in which they had grown accustomed to ministering.

The next day, Exley shared with the group about his own church plant failures. “Be stubbornly faithful,” Exley advised.

 

Liz Rios says it resonated with her when Exley shared his past struggles. The Rioses decided that they would plant again.

 

Chris Railey, director of the AG’s Church Multiplication Network, referenced the top 10 most populous U.S. cities without an AG church. Miramar, with more than 122,000 residents, topped the list.

Rios went up to Railey and proclaimed that she lived in Miramar. Railey considered it a neon sign.

National Church Planting Day is Sept. 18, when CityReach Church Miramar Pines launches in a facility just 10 minutes from the Rioses’ home. The U.S. Assemblies of God is set to open 75 churches in September, a record number, far eclipsing the previous record of 43.

 

Railey points to the AG’s vision of starting a healthy church in every community. Although the U.S. has 30,000 communities, there are only 13,000 AG churches.

 

“That became for us a burning platform,” Railey says. “The work is not done in America. Because of globalization, the world is coming to us. One of the best ways to reach the world is right here in America. We want to provide the training.”

 

Through this focus on equipping church planters with an array of resources, more than 90 percent of churches planted are still open five years later.

 

The initiative sprang from AG General Superintendent George O. Wood’s core values, which include planting new churches. To that end, in 2008 the Church Multiplication Network started. Since then, more than 3,000 AG churches have been planted.

 

Tim Wynn worked with Liz Rios to help her and her husband reaffirm their call to plant a church, leaving their last church experience as part of the past. The Rioses returned to the Assemblies of God and joined CityReach Network. Wynn serves as regional pastor and mentor for Liz Rios, helping her team get the Miramar church off the ground.

 

“They’ve persevered,” Wynn says. “The Lord is going to use them.”

 

The team includes some from their former plant. Rios says part of her training has entailed learning new methods of starting a congregation.

 

“We were able to say yes to God and His plan that never was our plan,” she says.

 

“The vision has to die before it’s birthed,” says Wynn, invoking John 12:24. “The Lord had us encourage them, fanning the flame of their desire to plant a good church.”

 

“We’ve come back and have an appreciation for the fellowship of the Assemblies of God,” Rios says. “When you taste something that you haven’t had in a while, you savor it.”

 

To further empower the church plant, she has enrolled in the AG Southeastern University Doctor of Ministry degree program.

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — September 14, 1969

Early twentieth-century Pentecostal pioneers were hungry for authentic Christianity, and they looked to previous spiritual outpourings for inspiration and instruction. One of the revivals recounted by early Pentecostals — the Prayer Revival of 1857 — had occurred within their lifetime. 

The social conditions that led up to the Prayer Revival of 1857, in many ways, mirror those in America today. Harold A. Fischer, an Assemblies of God minister, retold the compelling story of this revival in the Sept. 14, 1969, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel

By 1857, spiritual decline in America had become alarming. Church membership decreased and public figures were scoffing at religion. A time of prosperity had caused people to forget about God. Furthermore, the nation’s attention was riveted by the unfolding political drama that ultimately resulted in the Civil War. 

Things began to change in 1857, when a financial meltdown caused thousands of merchants to go bankrupt and forced many banks to close. People from all social backgrounds were affected. People began to turn away from materialism in the midst of their suffering. “As ruin stared men in the face,” Fischer wrote, “their only refuge was God.” 

A declining church pastored by a man with little ministry experience helped to spark a revival in 1857 that spread across the nation. Jeremiah Lanphier, a businessman, felt God’s call to the ministry. At age 49, he gave up his career and accepted the pastorate of Old North Dutch Church on Fulton and Williams Streets in the heart of lower New York City. 

The congregation was facing a slow demise. Immigrants were moving into the community, and the church’s members were moving elsewhere. Lanphier did not sit down and allow the inevitable to happen. He canvassed the neighborhood, praying with people and inviting people to church. Few responded, however, and he grew discouraged. 

But then Lanphier thought about the businessmen of the community, and how they might like to get away for a short break over the lunch hour. He widely advertised a noon prayer meeting for businessmen. Six showed up on the first day, Sept. 23, 1857. Attendance grew, and it soon became a daily event. 

Several weeks later, a stock market crash caused one of the worst financial panics in American history. The church, located near the financial district, became a destination for bankers, lawyers, and businessmen whose world had been turned upside down. Up to 3,000 people flooded into the noon prayer meeting, and similar prayer meetings began to be held around the nation.  Over the next year, between 300,000 and one million people accepted Christ across America during what came to be called the Prayer Revival of 1857. 

What characteristics marked the revival? It was largely carried on by laity who, according to Fischer, received an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that empowered them for unexpectedly effective ministry. Prayer was also one of the hallmarks of this revival. Charles Finney observed during the revival that people seemed to prefer prayer meetings over preaching services. Laypersons began to organize Sunday schools, local chapters of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and city missionary societies. 

The revival waned after one or two years, but churches were left in a stronger position and better able to address the tragedies that would be inflicted by the Civil War only a short time later. According to Fischer, “the effect of such praying had left its mark.”

Read Harold Fischer’s article, “The Great Revival of 1857,” on pages 18-19 of the Sept. 14, 1969, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Why Assemblies of God Colleges are Different,” by T. E. Gannon

• “The Prohibited Love,” by Gordon Chilvers

And many more!

Click to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Source: AG News

Tragic Loss Leaves Many Praying for Fulfilled Vision

“If you were feeling down, you were probably feeling up by the time you got done talking to her.” That is how youth minister, John Warren, describes Faith Dowler, 16, a long-time attendee of Central Assembly of God in Houston, Pennsylvania, who lost her life along with two others in a tragic car accident on Friday, Sept. 9, in West Virginia. 

Dowler, who lived in nearby Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, was known for her infectious energy and outgoing friendliness. She was riding along in a minivan on Interstate 79 with members of another local church’s youth group to support the Festival of Life outreach, an event that was sponsored in part by three AG churches, in Clarksville, West Virginia, which is about a 90-mile drive south from Canonsburg. 

Police reports say that a northbound box truck crossed the median and impacted the southbound minivan on the driver’s side, killing the driver, Rhoda Malone, 40, and Breanna Africa, 17 (both who attended Champion Christian Center in Canonsburg), in addition to Dowler, who were all seated on the driver’s side of the vehicle. The passengers on the other side of the van escaped with minor scrapes and bruises as did those in the box truck. 

According to Warren, student ministries pastor at Central AG, Dowler was a very active member of their student ministry and was part of the youth worship team. This past August, she also participated in the AG National Youth Ministries’ National Fine Arts Festival held in Louisville, Kentucky, having qualified in the poetry, short sermon, and flash fiction individual categories and was a member in the worship team category. 

“She was a very vibrant, energetic person — always with a big smile on her face,” Warren says. “It was hard for her to find someone who wasn’t a friend, and she would go out of her way to pray for people — people she didn’t even know . . .” which makes it easy to understand her desire to attend the Festival of Life. 

“Go Fund Me” accounts were set up to help the three families with funeral expenses, with many individuals responding to the need. However, one message left by a young person donating to help the Dowler family seemed to capture the essence of who Faith was, writing: “I met Faith at a 16th birthday party. I went to a different school, but she was very kind to me. I didn’t know her personally, but [she] was an awesome person.” 

Warren says that Dowler and Africa were students at Canon-McMillan High School in Canonsburg, a school of about 1,600 students that draws from a number of small communities in the county. Prior to high school, Dowler had spent all nine years attending Central’s K-8 Christian Academy. 

In the midst of the overwhelming sorrow, Warren says that a vision Dowler had shared with him and the youth group is proving to be motivational in their prayers and already in the lives of young people in their youth group. 

“She had a vision of thousands of students gathered together in a large area coming to know Jesus,” Warren says. “We believe that this difficult time is going to be the catalyst for seeing that vision come to pass. She had such a strong desire to see people saved, see her friends know Jesus, see her school changed. We believe that this is a time we’re going to begin to see this happen and what Faith was looking for, will come.” 

Warren says that most of the people at Central knew all those in the van as the two churches share a history together, so the loss of the three lives has struck deeply. “Some of our students have already felt emboldened to go out and tell people about Jesus as result of this tragedy,” Warren says. 

In addition to having held a prayer service on Saturday night following the accident, Warren says the church will do its best to provide comfort to friends and family. He also believes that Saturday’s [Sept. 17] “Celebration Service” at the church will not only be a time of reflection upon Dowler’s life and how she lived it for Christ, but a time when her vision for the salvation of others — thousands of others — will start coming to life. 

Source: AG News

Viva Church Plant

People move to Las Vegas, often pulled by supersized expectations. Sometimes they’re guided by dreams of getting rich quick, of making it big. Or they’re running from something. Others are poor recent arrivals to the nation, desperate for plentiful low-paying hospitality jobs.

But in this transient community, fortunes shift as quickly as the desert sand upon which this city famed for gambling was built.

“People come here, expecting something, but the city destroys them,” says church planter Russ Cambria. “Then they find they’re stuck here.”
Cambria, with his wife, Jennifer, and four other Pennsylvania families, moved to Nevada last year to start
CityReach Church Las Vegas East. It will launch Sept. 18, National Church Planting Day in the Assemblies of God.

The East Las Vegas church is one of a record number 75 AG plants set to open in September through the Church Multiplication Network, the Fellowship’s church planting arm. It’s also one of 28 launching through CityReach, an AG church planting network concentrating on overlooked urban areas.

Cambria likens Las Vegas to a big waiting room, where patients bide their time before being called elsewhere. Jennifer Cambria, a first-grade schoolteacher, sees the revolving door in her classroom as parents up and leave the city. Most of the pupils receive free or reduced-cost lunches. By the end of the school year, 40 percent of her students won’t be around anymore.

Cambria, 37, from Reading, Pennsylvania, has seen middle class professionals end up homeless in Las Vegas, which is not friendly to those needing help. Ever mindful of keeping up appearances, authorities routinely carry out homeless sweeps before conventions to keep tourists from seeing how the other half lives. 

Some aspects of the demographic are familiar to Cambria, who previously directed two Teen Challenge programs for nine years.

“Some people come running across the border and get into addiction and gangs,” he says. “We only have a window of opportunity to reach them before they move on. We’re going to have these people for a moment.”

Fifteen years ago, Cambria says the Lord called him to the mission field, confirmed after a 2004 trip to the desert city. He actually heeded the church planting call as a University of Valley Forge faculty member, after watching a live stream of a Church Multiplication Network event. 

“My heart has been with the addicted men and women who needed parachurch ministry before they could be productive members of society,” he says. “CityReach was a hybrid between church and Teen Challenge. They have programs for addicts and utilize addicts to start churches.”

While Las Vegas, with a metro population of 2 million, has some large congregations doing great work, the city is full of pockets without churches. One such place is the older, poorer inner city of East Las Vegas. The Cambrias are planting CityReach Church Las Vegas East three miles from The Strip and a quarter-mile from Boulder Highway, notorious for sex trafficking and prostitution. The Cambrias understand that relationships in “Sin City” must be built quickly.

“We want that moment in time to count,” Cambria says. That’s why instead of rows of pews, CityReach Church Las Vegas East will have tables for bridge-building pancake breakfasts provided at every 60-minute service. The church, which received financing from the AGTrust/CMN Matching Fund, has been approved as an official city food pantry. In addition, CityReach will offer a recovery group.

“Our team really wants our building and our church to be a crossroads for people — whether they’re in Vegas long term or just got to town — to have an opportunity to meet Jesus and meet others who know Jesus,” Cambria says.

The CityReach network uses unlikely people in overlooked places to do extraordinary things, Cambria says. Neither he nor his wife had pastoral experience.

“I was an unlikely person to plant a church,” he says. “We got approved to plant where other churches left.” 

The couple attended a two-day Church Multiplication Network Launch training event in Washington, D.C., where CMN Director Chris Railey and other leaders equipped and empowered them to plant the church.

“We left thinking, Oh, wow, we can do this,” Cambria says. “With God’s help, we can manage. We really felt prepared.”

Frank Wooden, CityReach West Coast and AG SoCal church planting director, notes that CityReach provides church planters with financial, mentoring, coaching, legal, and technical resources. Additionally, CityReach provides training and peer-to-peer learning from others, which greatly enhances a church plant’s chances for stability.

“Resourcing planters in a substantive way really helps them out without confining their innovation and creativity and entrepreneurial spirit,” Wooden says. 

Source: AG News

A Chaplain's Wife: Hearing from God

April (Hurt) Riley’s first job was as a dishwasher in church camp.

She was raised in church, where her father had many positions, including eventually being the pastor. She was involved in many aspects of her church, including youth conventions, summer camps, and any time the church doors were open. “You name it, I was there,” she admits.

However, just being in church was not enough for this woman who would become a U.S. Navy chaplain’s wife. Her husband Matt Riley is an Assemblies of God chaplain with the U.S. Navy, aboard the USS Port Royal (CG 73), stationed out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The grace of God on Matt’s life was chronicled in an earlier PE News feature.

“But, I had to learn how to hear from God myself and not just through someone else,” April admits.

April graduated high school with every intention of attending the Assemblies of God school she had already chosen. She had made her plans, and it was settled. But one month before school started, she was asked by a family friend to tour Central Bible College (CBC — now a part of Evangel University) in Springfield, Missouri. As she was driving home with her parents after that visit, she told them she knew God was calling her to CBC.

“I’m such a planner. It was very disturbing to me to make this change so late in the game. But, I did it! I completed the application and other paperwork for CBC — and got my acceptance letter essentially on my way to the school.”

April felt that the best four years of her life were spent on the campus, learning not only theology and youth ministry from some gifted people who served as her professors, but also learning more about herself, about life, and how to listen to God’s voice.

April volunteered to serve as a worship leader at the church she chose to attend in Springfield — and where she met her future husband Matt. “I started working at the Assemblies of God national office before I graduated from CBC, and continued working there until I was offered a position with the Arkansas District. Right before I left Springfield for that job, I met Matt.” Once again, April thought she had everything figured out — until God directed her steps.

“Our pastor, Gerald Horne, made up his mind to play matchmaker — a role completely uncharacteristic for him. I had forgotten that my plans are not always what God’s plans are.” Pastor Horne’s insistence at getting the two to talk met with resistance on both Matt and April’s part, but the pastor continued to push. Matt came from an un-churched background until God intervened and worked in his life. At the time the two met, he was an Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) military chaplaincy candidate. Matt and April talked a few times — and right before she left for Arkansas, they began dating.

“We kept in touch by phone and visited a few times, and by December of that year, Matt proposed. We were married the next August,” April says. “Matt and I often reflect back and shake our heads at how all that happened. We laugh, and say that only God can bring two completely different people from two completely different backgrounds together to accomplish His will.”

April considers herself to be extremely patriotic. “I love this country, but more so, I love the men and women who serve it and their families.” It never occurred to her that God could use the patriotism she felt and the youth ministry she trained for to later minister to what she calls the country’s largest youth group. April comments, “I am blown away daily when I think about how young these marines and sailors are who are defending my freedom.”

Chaplain Scott McChrystal, the military/veterans affairs endorser for AG Chaplaincy Ministries, a branch of AG U.S. Missions, notes that chaplaincy ministry is spiritual warfare on the front lines. “Chaplain spouses support their partner with prayer, understanding, and encouragement. Some highly talented chaplain wives, like April, add enormous creativity toward helping to engage warriors and families with the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Matt and April have three young children, which are her main duty, rather than any official involvement in her husband’s command. She will start homeschooling her oldest daughter this year. “However, when the ship is deployed, I find that just being here for the other spouses is a wonderful thing,” April says.

The families of the deployed ship’s crew meet regularly. “The military community is like no other I know of. It is so supportive. I have had to let go of a lot of my pride and independence and accept the help offered, and that has opened up many doors for building relationships,” April reflects.

“Women often experience difficulties and process through struggles in different ways than men do,” observes Kay Burnett, National Women’s Ministries director. “Having the encouragement of a dear friend or even a group of women during hard times can make all the difference in the journey. A healthy, supportive community of women is a gift from God.”

Matt’s ship, the Port Royal, deployed again on August 25 of this year. And, as before, Matt and April saw God moving in their lives, as He provided an answer to their prayers for April to have help while Matt is gone. Through a mutual friend, a Vanguard University student just moving to Hawaii contacted April for help in getting settled. At just the right time, April found out this new friend had served as a nanny previously, and loves working with kids.

April says it didn’t take long for things to fall into place. “I’d be lying if I said the struggle of my husband being away, and raising three kids as a ‘single’ mom for months at a time isn’t difficult sometimes.

“But God knows what we need and when we need it — so much better than we do. Putting that reality to practice in everyday life can just be hard sometimes,” she says. “Then, He does amazing things like this to remind us of just how much He cares about the little things in our lives.”

When asked if she feels she is making a sacrifice by being a chaplain’s wife, April’s response is humbling. “I think we all make sacrifices, no matter what line of work we are in. This just happens to be a little different. The people we are serving and ministering to are making the ultimate sacrifice.”
Source: AG News

Ministering from Life’s Lessons

Donnette A. Boyd is a senior chaplain at the largest U.S. military base outside the United States. As wing chaplain of the 86th Airlift Wing, Boyd oversees 10 other chaplains as well as 10 chaplain assistants at Ramstein Air Base. Including family members of U.S. Air Force personnel and Department of Defense civilians, the base in Germany has a population of 57,000.

It’s an unlikely career achievement for a woman who lived her early years in a home with no running water or electricity. 

As a 6-month-old baby, Boyd remained behind in Jamaica when her mother — who had left Donnette’s father — immigrated to the roughest part of Cleveland. Donnette didn’t join her mother until 1971 at the age of 6. She soon discovered poverty-stricken surroundings of a Caribbean island had been replaced by a drug- and crime-infested inner city neighborhood.

Bullies ostracized the bookworm interested in learning. In addition, Boyd says her mother, who only had an eighth grade education, didn’t spare the rod on her.

Although she had no church background, Boyd learned the power of prayer as a 12-year-old girl. Even though she didn’t fully understand God, Boyd says He continually protected her on the way to and from school from being attacked by violent girl gangs. 

While needing another credit hour at Kent State University, Boyd says she unwittingly signed up for a Reserved Officers’ Training Corps class. Even so, she figured the military could provide employment after graduation.

Originally, Boyd joined the Air Force in 1987 as an executive officer in an F-16 fighter squadron. She says she spent most of her time drinking excessively at nightclubs, an attempt to cover the intense loneliness and isolation she felt throughout her childhood, youth, and early adult life.

But Boyd says the Holy Spirit convicted her after a transfer to South Korea. During her next assignment to a base in Valdosta, Georgia, Boyd, the then 26-year-old Boyd went to a base worship service, shared that she needed to get right with God, and accepted Jesus as her Savior.

“I had never felt love in my life until that moment,” Boyd says. Up to that point, Boyd says she preferred the company of animals to humans.

“The Lord gave me a love for other people,” Boyd says. “That love has sustained me as a chaplain.”

Boyd met her husband, Larry, at a squadron officer’s school in Montgomery, Alabama. They wed in 1993. She got involved in volunteer ministry and wanted to go full time, but she hesitated leaving the Air Force. Larry suggested she become a chaplain.

“I was already praying with people, preaching at a local church on Sundays, serving Communion, and working on a master’s in counseling,” she says.

The decision to become a chaplain required resigning her commission, leaving the Air Force, and enrolling in seminary. After being recommissioned as a chaplain in 2000, Boyd joined the staff at the Air Force Chief of Chaplains Office at the Pentagon in 2008. She came under the tutelage of AG Chaplain Cecil R. Richardson, who had overcome similar unfavorable origins.

“Chaplain Richardson was like a father figure to me,” Boyd says. “He was such a godly role model and mentor.”

After initially being ordained with the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American Pentecostal denomination, Boyd affiliated with the Assemblies of God in 2010.

Richardson, who eventually rose to become Air Force chief of chaplains in 2009, calls Boyd one of the most talented, spiritually minded, and godly women he’s ever met.

“Donnette Boyd has an unparalleled record of ministry excellence,” says Richardson, who retired in 2012 as a two-star general, the highest-ranking available to chaplains. “She combines to perfection a keen mind, top leadership skills, and deep pastoral concern.”   

Boyd relishes the chaplaincy role. Her calm demeanor helps her counsel people, often for nonspiritual work and marital issues.

“Chaplains offer hope and a listening ear about struggles people are going through in the home or at work,” Boyd says. “They can talk to us about anything in confidence. We sometimes are the first line of defense in suicide prevention. We help sexual assault victims. We help people heal and connect with their faith.”

In addition to relating to people because of earlier life traumas, Boyd can empathize with those returning from combat. She served as a chaplain in war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Boyd is the first female African-American chaplain promoted to the rank of colonel. She views potential obstacles — being a naturalized U.S. citizen after immigrating, a female, and an African-American — as ministry opportunities.

A youthful looking 51, Boyd has been married 22 years. She and Larry have a 20-year-old daughter, Verily, and 15-year-old son, Joshua.

Source: AG News

AG Next Generation Grant Doing its Job

Brian Rossignol, a graduate of Central Bible College (now a part of Evangel University, Springfield, Missouri), was a 2014 recipient of AGTrust’s AG Next Generation Grant — a grant that was significant for the Rossignols and their ministry.

“The AG Next Generation Grant made a huge difference in our outlook to pay off our student loans and be able to focus on our pastoral ministry,” Brian says. The grant was created to provide assistance to a select number of graduates of AG colleges and universities to help with the repayment of their educational debt and help them move into ministry sooner. 

Today, Brian and his wife, Andrea, serve as lead pastors of Praise Assembly of God in Torrington, Wyoming. Brian is also discipleship director, children’s director, and BGMC coordinator for the AG Wyoming District. 

Brian graduated from college with a degree in church planting and pastoral ministries. He and Andrea have been pastoring Praise Assembly for two years. 

“We are real people who believe in a real God who really cares,” says Brian. “It is amazing to see God’s hand in our growth. Two years ago, our district leadership considered closing the church, but it is alive and well and stronger than it ever has been. We are just so blessed to be here.” 

The Rossignols’ first service at Praise Assembly was in August 2014 with 21 people in attendance. After one year, that number more than doubled to 45 people. The current average attendance is 65. In the past two years, Praise Assembly has launched small groups, a midweek children’s outreach, and several community outreaches. 

The Wyoming District children’s ministries area is growing under Brian’s leadership as well. In June 2016, Wyoming Children’s Ministries had the largest number of campers in its history. Training is being provided to local churches and about 20 of them have implemented one or more of these children’s ministries: Junior Bible Quiz, Royal Rangers, and Girls Ministries. 

“With the help of various partners and churches, the district has been able to reduce the camp registration cost to $40 per camper! Making camp more accessible has revolutionized this ministry,” Brian says. 

Training young leaders like Brian is one of the major initiatives of AGTrust in its efforts to empower future generations for the task of fulfilling the Great Commission. Since 2009, AGTrust has provided 998 scholarships and grants totaling over $2.6 million to students and graduates of the 17 AG colleges and universities.

Note: The 2016 AG Next Generation application is currently available at agtrust.org with a submission deadline of Sept. 16. Applicants must be graduates of AG colleges from spring 2010 to spring 2015 and committed to a full-time AG ministry position.

Source: AG News

First Season of Excavations at el-Araj

The Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies provides a regular column to PE News that offers deep and sometimes surprising insight into the Word of God through close examination of the culture of the day, biblical sites, and archaeological records. In this article, Dr. Mordechai Aviam of the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology provides a report on the archaeological excavations being conducted at el-Araj by Kinneret College, Nyack College, and the Center for Holy Lands Studies, in hopes of proving it was the actual site of the biblical city of Bethsaida.

 

The site of el-Araj sits on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee, near the Jordan estuary to the Sea of Galilee. Since the late 19th century, el-Araj, along with et-Tel which sits two kilometers from the shore of the Sea of Galilee, has been identified as one of the main candidates for the ancient site of Bethsaida, the home of several of Jesus’ disciples.

 

Over the last 30 years, Dr. Rami Arav has conducted large-scale excavations at et-Tel, where he discovered a layer of dwellings from the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods leading him to identify et-Tel as Bethsaida. He also did a small archeological sounding at el-Araj and suggested no settlement existed there prior to the Byzantine period.

 

In the summer of 2014, the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology and the Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies conducted “shovel testing” survey at el-Araj directed by Dr. Dina Shalem and Dr. Mordechai Aviam. Around the site, six squares were opened digging down 0.3 meters. The assemblage of pottery uncovered included a few potsherds from the late Hellenistic period, a dozen from the early Roman period, as well as remains from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods.

 

This past summer, the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology, in the Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee, together with the Center for Holy Lands Studies and Nyack College and the Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins conducted the first season of excavations at el-Araj.

 

The excavations opened two areas. The western area was located west of the remains of the Ottoman palace, which stood on the site of el-Araj until it was destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces as part of a military operation in 1955. According to an eyewitness report from 1927, a colorful mosaic floor was seen under the building; and therefore, we decided to open an excavation area close to the remains. The first layer dated to the Crusader period, 13th century, by a lead token discovered on the floor. This building was most likely part of a sugar factory due to the typical clay vessels, sugar bowls and molasses jars that were uncovered.

 

Underneath the Crusader level we discovered remains of a dwelling dated to the late Byzantine-early Islamic period. An unusual large bronze jar was uncovered, which has been sent to the laboratory for conservation. Coins and pottery dating from the 6th-8th centuries were uncovered on the floors. The most surprising find was a group of gilded glass tesserae, which are used in the construction of wall mosaics. These type of tesserae are typical to large and important churches. Which means, even before finding the church itself, it is possible to suggest that in the Byzantine period, el-Araj was identified as a holy place, most likely Bethsaida. One of the walls contains a large, reused, monolithic, limestone pillar, and nearby, outside of the excavation area, there is another limestone double “heart-shaped” pillar, which are both typical to late Roman Jewish synagogues in Galilee.

 

The second excavation area was opened to the east of the destroyed Ottoman building. There we uncovered walls dating to the Byzantine-Early Islamic period.

 

Both areas yielded a large number of typical early Roman pottery. As of yet, structures from the early Roman period have not been uncovered.

 

After this initial season of excavation, our primary conclusions are: 1) the site of el-Araj was most likely identified as Bethsaida during the Byzantine period, and a church, probably a pilgrim monastery was erected at the site. 2) The site of el-Araj was inhabited during the early Roman period; therefore, it remains a good candidate for the identification of Bethsaida. 3) We will continue to excavate el-Araj in the coming years.

Note: The workers were students from the department of the Land of Israel Studies in the Kinneret College and American and Chinese students who came through the Center for Holy Lands Studies and Nyack College. The excavation was supported by donations from the Center for Holy Lands Studies, the Biblical Archaeology Society, and the Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins. 

Source: AG News