Remembering the Persecuted

Religiously motivated persecution is on the rise around the world. According to a recent report, 75 percent of all victims of religiously motivated violence and oppression are Christians1. By some estimates, more Christians died for their faith in the last century than in the previous 19 centuries combined2, and Christians continue to flee their homes, cities and countries in record numbers. Now more than ever, followers of Christ have a responsibility to pray and advocate for our fellow believers worldwide.

In response to the urgency of this need, Sunday, Nov. 12, has been declared the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

As a participating Fellowship, the Assemblies of God encourages its churches and members to use this date for a special time of prayer. Pastors can highlight the subject of the suffering church during regularly scheduled prayer meetings, call for special prayer meetings, or use time in Sunday services to focus on the plight of persecuted Christians.

Along with this annual nationwide emphasis, AG World Missions spotlights key prayer needs of suffering believers around the world every week of the year on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.

“Many believers in the Western/Northern worlds have no idea about suffering. I believe the Lord is calling us (in our relatively suffering-free existence) to be informed, pray and advocate for those who suffer daily,” states AGWM Executive Director Greg Mundis. “Consider this: When believers handle suffering joyfully and with stability, it becomes a marvelous testimony to the power and life of Christ that we claim and name. Suffering provides key opportunities to manifest and magnify the power of God through His servants to verify and confirm the messenger and his message.”

Such was the case of an Assemblies of God pastor in a restricted access country who served three prison terms for preaching the gospel. During his third imprisonment, he led 42 prisoners and two prison guards to Christ. One of the 42 prisoners became an evangelist who led more than 700 people to Christ during the first month after his release from prison.

“Until deliverance comes — or even if it does not come in this life — hardship and suffering can be endured in the power of God,” says missionary Randy Hurst, who serves on the WAGF Commission on Religious Liberty. “God never promised we would never suffer; instead, He promised that His grace and power are sufficient for us. Some suffering brothers and sisters say, ‘Don’t pray for our release from persecution. Pray that God will give us strength and an open door to witness for Christ.’ They want to accomplish God’s purpose in their lives, not escape their problems. Like the Early Church believers, they are rejoicing that they are worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name. However, those who are suffering persecution almost always plead with us to ask their fellow believers to remember them and to intercede for them regularly in prayer. The knowledge that we are aware of their sufferings and are praying for them is an essential comfort to them in their very trying circumstances.

Pray:

  • That the many Christians forced to keep their faith a secret will experience fellowship and encouragement and will grow in faith and doctrine.
  • For protection and steadfastness for Christians converts who are faced with major difficulties within their families.
  • For comfort for imprisoned and maltreated Christians, healing of their physical and emotional wounds, and willingness to forgive.
  • For God to work in the hearts of those who persecute Christians, and Jesus to reveal himself to politicians and other government leaders.
  • For compassionate societies that do not automatically view Christians as enemies.

1 Aid to the Church in Need 2015-2017 Report, “Persecuted and Forgotten”
2 Center for the Study of Global Christianity

Source: AG News

Museum of the Bible Opening Mid-November<br />

When visitors to Washington, D.C., tour the capital’s historic museums and monuments in the future, they’ll have more than just American history to learn. They’ll also have the opportunity to explore the history of the best-selling book of all time – the Bible.

The $500 million, 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible is scheduled to open Nov. 17 in the heart of the nation’s capital, within walking distance for visitors and just two blocks from the National Mall and National Air and Space Museum and three blocks from the Capitol building.  

With cutting-edge technology spread out across eight floors, it will be the largest museum in the world dedicated to the history, narrative, and impact of Scripture.

It will open seven years after a Museum of the Bible 501(c)(3) nonprofit was established and five years after the site was purchased. It formerly was the Washington Design Center. Construction began in December 2014.

The museum’s founder is Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, who said public opinion surveys were conducted to determine if people would visit the museum.

“The question was: If we built it, would they come? The answer was overwhelmingly yes — if it was done well and done right,” Green said. “[The survey] also showed that it would be best attended in Washington, D.C. … That is where museum-goers go. To be right there with all the museums would be the best place for us to be.”

Each visitor to the museum will receive a hand-held tablet known as a “Digital Guide,” which will take advantage of 500 wireless access points to give guests a one-of-a kind personalized guide. It can adjust the tour when a guest deviates from the pre-planned tour and even can re-route a tour when certain rooms are packed with visitors. The Digital Guide has three age levels: adults and teens; 9-12, and 8-and-under.

The museum will be a “celebration of the Bible” to be enjoyed by all people – Christians and non-Christians alike, Green said.

Forming the core of the museum’s eight floors will be three permanent exhibits:

  • “History of the Bible”: Visitors will follow the humble origins of the Bible and learn how it became the most widely read text in history.
  • “Narratives of the Bible”: Visitors will discover the stories of Scripture, from Genesis to the New Testament.
  • “Impact of the Bible”: Visitors will learn how the Bible has impacted history and modern-day life, including science, government, and the arts.

“The average person has no clue the degree that this book has impacted their life,” Green said. “We want to show that, whether it be in science or art or literature or government or compassion ministries.”

A restaurant serving foods of the Bible will reside on the top floor. The museum also will house a 500-seat performance arts theater.

Green said his passion for the Bible came from his father, Hobby Lobby founder David Green.

“God has blessed us tremendously, and we do strive to operate our business according to biblical principles,” Steve Green said. “[My love for Scripture] goes back to the love that our family has passed down to us – my parents and my parents’ parents, and it goes even further back than that. It’s a love for God’s Word. … We want to celebrate and highlight this Book, and encourage all people to engage with it. That is the bottom-line goal for the Bible museum.

“… The way I look at it, we have the best material of any museum in the country. We have a book that has changed our world like nothing else has.”

Source: AG News

Sam Huddleston’s Roundabout Journey

Samuel M. Huddleston attends his first meeting next week as a member of the 21-member Assemblies of God Executive Presbytery, the top policy-making body of the U.S. Fellowship with over 3.2 million adherents.

His election is a natural culmination for a 64-year-old ministry leader, who has an earned doctorate from Regent University and who has been assistant superintendent of the AG Northern California & Nevada District since 2004.

However, it seems an improbable journey for a man who spent nearly five years in California prisons after being convicted of second-degree murder. At the age of 17, Huddleston faced a potential life sentence behind bars.

Huddleston’s God-fearing, churchgoing father, Eddie, tried to implant values in his young son. Of the six children in the family, Sam was mama’s boy; he found it inconceivable that she would leave the family when he was 8. After his parents divorced, Huddleston blamed both his Heavenly Father and earthly father. He internalized feelings of rejection, which led to rebellion.

Sam turned to alcohol, marijuana, stealing, and brawling. At 15, Sam’s first night in juvenile hall, a cellmate raped him. Shortly afterwards, Sam miraculously survived a suicide attempt when he washed down a bottle of pills with lighter fluid. He became a father at 16, after his girlfriend, Ann Ward, gave birth to their son, Andre.

Sam’s grandfather Bryce Huddleston, a resident deputy sheriff, warned him, “Grandson, I’ve worked hard to make the Huddleston name one to be proud of. So, either change your name, or change your character.” Sam failed to heed the advice.

AN INDEFINITE SENTENCE

In June 1971, Huddleston had been drinking, popping pills, and carousing almost nonstop for six days. In a drunken stupor, he accompanied his older cousin Shep to a liquor store. Shep borrowed Huddleston’s knife and stabbed the shop owner to death.

Most of his fellow inmates never received visits — from anyone. Yet Eddie Huddleston, a Sunday School superintendent, didn’t abandon his wayward son. In fact, Sam kept remembering the first words Eddie spoke to him after the arrest: “Son, we’re in trouble.”

Eddie always hugged Sam when he arrived and departed for regular prison visits. Many of the other prisoners didn’t even know their father’s identity. His father, grandfather, and three uncles all dropped by, imparting wisdom about how to be a man. Eddie modeled forgiveness, never blaming his ex-wife for the marital breakup.

After 18 months in the penitentiary, Sam accepted Jesus as Savior, and took responsibility for his own failures. He read the Bible, prayed, and memorized Scripture.

“My dad instilled principles in me,” Huddleston says. “He taught me how to pray, that real men cry, that real men take care of their families.”

Huddleston had no exposure to the Assemblies of God until hearing Revivaltime evangelist C.M. Ward preach on a radio in his cell. G. Lee Thomas, then an AG pastor in Sonora, visited the prison occasionally, and told Huddleston about the Holy Spirit. Thomas arranged for Huddleston to preach at the church he pastored, even before Huddleston’s release for good behavior (he could have remained incarcerated for life).

Upon being freed in 1976, Sam asked forgiveness of those he hurt. He visited Ann — then raising Andre, nearly 6 — but she had no interest in a continued relationship.

Linda Gail Amey, a single mother with two children, Royce, 6, and Ericka, 4, met Sam the evening he gained his liberty when he spoke at the church pastored by her brother Dwight. Soon, Linda accompanied Sam to different venues where he sang and she played piano. Linda found herself attracted to Sam’s immersion in God’s Word. They wed only four months after being introduced.

However, after five years of being told when to wake up, go to sleep, and everything in between, Huddleston found it difficult to make decisions. Although he only had earned a General Equivalency Development diploma, Linda challenged him to obtain as much education as possible in order to realize his full potential. Huddleston enrolled in Bethany University, unaware that C.M. Ward served as the school’s president.

“Education is important because, initially, it replaced the insecurities that developed while in prison,” Huddleston says. “I realized education would open doors, even though I was an ex-felon.”

DEALING WITH THE PAST

Because of poor study tendencies, Sam wanted to quit attending Bethany. Linda convinced him to stay. While enrolled in an Azusa Pacific University master’s marriage and family class, Huddleston again thought about quitting, this time because therapy techniques brought emotions he never dealt with to the surface. Linda actually left him for a couple of weeks as he ranted and raved. Learning to deal with those emotions proved to be a turning point. 

Linda bore the brunt of that misdirected harbored anger in the early years of their marriage. Only when his mother, Mattie, read the manuscript for Huddleston’s book 5 Years to Life did he come to understand that she always loved him. Now Huddleston talks to his 82-year-old mom two or three times a week on the phone.

Andre eventually came to live with Sam and Linda permanently, and Sam legally adopted Royce and Ericka. The Huddlestons, married for 41 years, have 13 grandchildren.

Huddleston has become a much beloved figure around the district. He’s an affable, irenic leader, who nevertheless is unafraid to challenge others with sometimes unpleasant truths.

Char Blair, his executive administrator in the district office the past 13 years, says Huddleston has a Christ-like quality of putting people ahead of anything else.

“He is a kind leader, mixing grace with sincerity,” says Blair, a credentialed AG minister and evangelist. “He is a great mentor for so many people.”

Huddleston these days certainly is more of a peacemaker than a rabble-rouser.

“He’s a lot more confident in who he is than when we married,” Linda says. “Sam is at his best when he is dropped off in chaos, because he brings order to it.”

Source: AG News

A Testimony of Persistence and Patience

Her name was Mary. She had faithfully attended a Christian church for nearly all of her life, but she readily admits, she was committed to her parents and their faith, but had no personal relationship with or commitment to God. She had never heard the plan of salvation and didn’t even know what it was.

When Mary was 18, she was involved in a horrific car accident. Three of her friends in the car she was riding in were killed and a person in another car also died. Mary was seriously injured, with the doctors telling her parents that if she survived, she would be nothing more than a vegetable.

However, now a licensed minister with a teaching degree and two master’s degrees, she has long ago proven the doctors . . . “mistaken.”

But the miraculous recovery Mary experienced did not draw her nearer to God; instead it simply led her to question His existence even more — she experienced a miracle while four others lost their lives? Secretly, she started to identify herself as an agnostic even as she participated in and even led some of her church’s ministries.

Years past and Mary met and married Ben Moss, a military man. While he was deployed, she began attending an interdenominational gathering at a local church in Springfield, Missouri, called School of Christian Living.

Mary recalls taking the class on the Gospel of Mark. “There was this red-headed kid who had a really good sense of humor and was also very intelligent, teaching the class. I remember him asking, ‘Who is Jesus, who is Christ, who is the Son of God to you?’ and I was thinking to myself, I would like to know!

Following the conclusion of the classes, George, the class instructor, recalls Mary approaching him and asking him straight out who Jesus was.

“I told him that I don’t believe in Jesus Christ and that I don’t believe in the divinity of the Bible,” Mary recalls, who was about 28 at the time. “I expected him to argue with me, but he didn’t.”

Instead George asked Mary to read two books: The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and They Speak with Other Tongues by John Sherrill.

George sensed Mary’s questions were genuine, so he, with the blessing of his wife, invited Mary over to their small apartment that was on the campus of Evangel College (now University) to answer any questions she had.

“I had no idea he was Assembly of God,” Mary admits. “If I would have known, I wouldn’t have gone!”

When Mary arrived, George, who at that time was 25, recalls she had a yellow note pad with her — filled with pages of questions.

George and his wife, who was expecting their first child, spent several hours answering Mary’s questions to the best of their ability. George recalls Mary had few lightweight questions, instead they showed much thought and were intensely profound.

At the conclusion of their time, Mary was still not convinced, but her search for truth was driving her. The next week, she returned to the couple’s apartment with a whole new list of in-depth questions.

“This kept on for weeks and weeks,” George says, who adds he wasn’t always sure the answers he was giving were being accepted by Mary, but he relied on the Holy Spirit to fully communicate the answers to her heart and soul. “Finally I told her, ‘I’ve told you all I know to tell you Mary, faith is resting in the sufficiency of the evidence — it’s not a leap in the dark; its evidence is compelling.’”

Mary left, unable to make a decision. But she returned to the apartment yet again the following week, only this time, instead of pages of questions, she had written out her confession of faith. The threesome knelt in prayer and Mary became a totally sold-out believer and follower of Christ. Mary began seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and under the ministry of one of the first AG Military Chaplains, Stanford Lindzey, she experienced the Baptism with evidence of speaking in tongues.

Not long after this, George lost touch with Mary. However, when Ben returned from deployment to find Mary a passionate born-again Christian (attending an AG church no less!) he would have none of it. At first, he would only drive her to church if it was bad weather, but finally, through Mary’s transformation, he decided to attend a service. Mary recalls that not long after, Ben accepted Christ as his personal Savior. At the time, Russ Turney was their pastor — he also spent hours answering questions for Mary. Later, Turney became the Asia Pacific Regional director for AG World Missions.

Mary vividly recalls when David Wilkerson visited Springfield. Already well-known for his ministry and The Cross and the Switchblade, George had connected with Mary to let her know Wilkerson would be in town.

Whether it was reading Wilkerson’s book, hearing him in person, her heart to reach the lost, or some combination of the three, God planted a burden for girls trying to break free from life-controlling addictions in Mary’s heart. With Ben’s full support, she would spend years serving as counselor to the women of the Teen Challenge center located in Kimberling City, about an hour’s drive south of Springfield.

Mary became a licensed AG minister, earned a second masters through AG Theological Seminary, was one of the early members of the now mega-church, James River, and when Frank Reynolds, then the national director of Teen Challenge, began looking at starting a Teen Challenge center in Springfield, one of his first calls was to Mary and Ben to help establish it. A pretty amazing journey for a former agnostic.

But none of this would have been possible if some “red-headed kid” and his wife would not have been willing to patiently give of their time to ultimately lead Mary to Christ (circa 1966).

That kid and his wife? That would be former AG General Superintendent George O. Wood and his wife, Jewel. Although Ben passed away in 2001, Mary made it a point to be at George’s retirement reception in October to congratulate him and thank them once again for investing in her.

As Mary reflects on the class George led all those years ago, she says, “You know, that was an interdenominational class, and there never was an Assembly of God person teaching there, never . . . , George was probably the only AG person who ever taught there, and God had him there for me!”

Source: AG News

Remembering the Impossible

Jason P. Noble, pastor of First Assembly Church in St. Peters, Missouri, hung up the phone and exhaled heavily. He’d just received the call no minister wants to get. That day, Jan., 19, 2015, churchgoer John Smith had fallen through ice into a lake and had been submerged for 15 minutes. The outcome didn’t look good.

When he arrived at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center in St Louis around 4:30 p.m., the waiting room outside the pediatric ICU was bursting with church members, family, friends, and John’s classmates. Noble caught snippets of what had happened.

John, 14, and two friends had walked out onto frozen Lake Louise, and ice gave way. The other two boys were rescued, hospitalized, and released.

But John didn’t survive the experience.

He was moments from being pronounced dead when his mother, Joyce Smith, walked into the emergency room and began calling out to God. Immediately, after more than an hour with no pulse, John’s heartbeat started. Everyone rejoiced over the miracle of a boy coming back to life. However, doctors didn’t believe John would stay alive — and if he did, he would be a vegetable.

It was time to pray.

“The family was resolved that it didn’t matter what the doctors said, we were going to take this to God and trust Him to be who He says He is,” Noble says. So, Noble gathered several other pastors from the waiting room and went into John’s room.

“He didn’t look good,” Noble remembers. John’s skin was gray-tinted, his body and face were bloated almost beyond recognition, and he was in a coma. Noble and the other pastors surrounded the bed, and Noble leaned close to John’s ear, telling him everything would be OK. Then the group started to pray, specifically that God would give John the breath of life back into his lungs, and that God would rewire his brain.

“We prayed for complete healing,” Noble says.

From that first night in the hospital, Noble sensed God telling him he needed to stick close to the family. He understood the sacrifice of the commitment.

“God wanted me to stay and see it through — no matter how long it would take,” Noble says.” He recognized that might mean spending a lot of days and late nights away from his own family.

Thankfully, his wife and children agreed, and encouraged him to follow God’s leading.

“The moment Jason told me what he felt God calling him to, I felt God speak to my spirit that He was walking us all through this,” says Paula, Noble’s wife of 22 years. “I knew He would take care of my family’s needs while Jason was taking care of what God needed him to do.”

Thus, Noble remained with John and his parents, Joyce and Brian — who adopted John as a baby from Guatemala — continually praying, ministering, and speaking words of life over the teenager. And watching miracles take place.

They all rejoiced when John survived the first 24 hours. As John faced each new challenge — from possible infection in his lungs to an unstable blood pressure to restoring his mental faculties — Noble led the family and First Assembly in spiritual battle.

“We continued to pray God’s promises from Scripture, and to remind ourselves that God is the Great Physician and can do all things,” Noble says. The more people prayed, the more John’s outlook improved. Within three days, John had recovered all his mental faculties — something the entire medical community claimed couldn’t happen.

After seven days, physicians removed John’s ventilator and moved him out of intensive care. A week after that, John went home. Noble witnessed the entire hospital stay. He walked side by side with John out the medical center’s doors.

Joyce Smith is grateful for the sacrifice her pastor made for her family.

“I truly believe God sent Pastor Jason to this church for this situation,” says Joyce. “I don’t know what we would have done without him.”

Noble says he continues to feel an intense closeness with the family.

“I will have a deep heart connection with Joyce, John, and Brian for the rest of our lives,” Noble says.

Now, two years later, Joyce Smith has written their story in The Impossible: The Miraculous Story of a Mother’s Faith and Her Child’s Resurrection. The book released Nov. 7. Noble wrote the afterword for the book, in which he shares further insights about the experience.

“God is still in the miracle-working business,” Noble says. “It’s been incredible to watch this story play out and see God’s hand at work.”

In addition to the book, the miracle story tentatively will be a 20th Century Fox motion picture late next year from producer DeVon Franklin, who last year produced the hit movie Miracles from Heaven. Assemblies of God Pastor Samuel Rodriguez is executive producer of the new film.

IMAGE – John Smith and Jason Noble
Source: AG News

AG World Missions Highlights "Every Tribe, Every Nation"

Assemblies of God World Missions has announced “Every Tribe, Every Nation” as its annual ministry theme for 2018. The Fellowship’s missions arm develops annual themes as a unifying and motivating tool for churches and members supporting its work in more than 190 nations.

Missions has remained a central element of the AG’s corporate identity throughout its history. From 32 missionaries endorsed by the Fellowship in 1914, ministry personnel have grown to nearly 2,800 missionaries and missionary associates worldwide.

“Revelation 7:9 offers a biblical framework for the 2018 theme,” says Andy Raatz, AGWM Communications director. “The heartbeat of the Great Commission is to take the message of Jesus’ grace to ‘every nation, tribe, people and language.’ The focus of AG World Missions is to see churches planted among every one of those groups — communities of faith that will continue to spread the message of good news.”

Beginning Nov. 22, a series of free online devotionals will be available to promote 40 days of prayer for the launch of the 2018 theme. These will center around Revelation 7:9, but include supporting Scriptures, missions quotes, and missions history.

The 40 days of prayer encourage personal involvement in missions, as will each component of the “Every Tribe, Every Nation” focus throughout the year. WorldView, the AGWM monthly magazine, will publish a progressive series of insights into the theme, and AGWM social media outlets will connect users regularly with each other, with the ministries of missionaries they support, and with unreached communities around the world.

“Many sources tell us that more than 7,000 people groups have no indigenous community of believing Christians to evangelize them,” says AGWM Executive Director Greg Mundis. “As we contemplate these staggering statistics, we realize that not just millions, but billions, have limited or no access to the gospel message.”

While the concept of a tribe traditionally connects with anthropological definitions of people groups, the tribes of today can come into being through shared interests and common life experiences among people of different ethnicities and personal backgrounds. AGWM regional ministries have been addressing this phenomenon.

In Africa, the world’s most rapidly urbanizing continent, a growing class of business entrepreneurs, political leaders, and social influencers in the media are no longer defined by their historic tribal identity, but are forming new mosaic groups that are shaping Africa’s cities and the continent.

“We created the Urban Tribes church planting project to reach Africa’s culture changers,” says Greg Beggs, AGWM Africa regional director. “We want to plant churches where they are. When the culture changers become transformed by the gospel, there is a trickle-down effect.”

Paul Trementozzi, AGWM Europe regional director, notes a different alignment of people groups across his continent, the estimated 500 million Europeans with a largely secularist view of life, out of touch with Christianity or any other religious frame of reference. “The deep spiritual need among the native European majority is primarily secular and agnostic in its beliefs,” he says. “Our Secularist Initiative wants to see secularists encounter Jesus Christ within their context.”

“Every Tribe, Every Nation” is an invitation to AG World Missions partners to self-discovery, to a deeper sense of belonging, to a passion for rescuing lost souls. Throughout 2018, the theme will call for a renewed recognition of a world in need and a growing commitment to become part of the solution.

To join the 40 Days of Prayer prayer list, click here and scroll down.

Source: AG News

Pioneer Work Still Bearing Fruit

On a crisp autumn day in 1943, Lenora B. Annabel and Donna J. Liebler moved to Adrian, Michigan, to plant the community’s first Assemblies of God church. Liebler had been saved under Annabel’s ministry at an AG church in Peck, Michigan, and the two set out to launch the new work after Liebler finished Bible college.

Driven by their mission, Annabel, then 53, and LIebler, 26, set out to pioneer a church that could reach the children of a local government housing project who otherwise would not have access to a Pentecostal church.

Because of their love for their new growing community, with more than 15,000 residents during World War II, Annabel and Liebler decided they would name the church Bethany Assembly.

“Bethany, as mentioned in the Bible, was a place that Jesus loved to go to be with friends,” says William F. Leach, onetime pastor of Bethany Assembly. “Jesus was a friend of sinners, the forgotten society.”

The church started as a simple Sunday School that met in a small apartment owned by Deerfield Park, the local government housing authority. As children attended classes, parents started hanging out to hear the contents of the lessons.

Shortly thereafter, evening services began in a rented storefront. However, the landlord stopped leasing the building, so Annabel and Liebler found themselves without a brick-and-mortar establishment. Services continued on lawns if temperatures accommodated, and in residences — or even automobiles — during inclement weather.

In 1947, Liebler and Annabel purchased a large home used both for a main place of worship and as a parsonage. Church attendance continued to increase, and in the mid-1950s under new pastor Arthur G. Clay, construction began on another building. In 1956, Bethany Assembly had a permanent home.

Growth continued at an exponential rate, and in 1961 the church embarked on a series of expansions. Eventually, unable to build further on the existing property, newly elected pastor William Leach oversaw completion of an edifice that seats 1,500 in the main auditorium and has 67 classrooms.

Today, weekly attendance at Bethany Assembly averages more than 700 people.

Liebler — who turned 100 years old in August and lives in Maranatha Village in Springfield, Missouri — isn’t surprised that the church continues to be a force in Adrian, which now has 20,600 residents.

“Lenora knew that the birth of Bethany would likely be her last work, but that it would have the greatest impact and farthest reach of any of her previous ministries,” says Liebler, who remains mentally sharp. Annabel co-pastored until she moved to a nursing home. She died in 1959. Liebler remained a part of the church until 1980.

“Bethany’s legacy is far reaching,” says Leach. “It is a great missions church and has produced great leaders in the professional ministry who are now serving in the U.S. and around the world.”

The church launched several influential young people who became leaders within the AG. Leach, who pastored for 16 years at Bethany, went on to serve as Michigan District superintendent for a record 28 years before retiring last year.

“In 1972, Bethany took a monumental risk and invited my wife, Marilynn, and me to be their pastors,” says Leach, who started his duties there at 22. “I was young, green, and inexperienced, but Bethany affirmed us and encouraged us.”

Newly elected General Superintendent Doug Clay attended Bethany, where his father pastored, as a child and youth.

“While growing up in Bethany, I was able to see how a healthy, functioning, and biblically sound church should operate,” says Clay, who recounts his spiritual journey in the new book, Ordered Steps. “At Bethany, I had the opportunity to get involved in ministry at an early age and was afforded spiritual mentorship within the church that helped me develop into who I am today.”

Source: AG News

Talk About Jesus to Me: Revival in Iran

Centuries before Christ, the Persian Empire ruled more than 40 percent of the known world. Persian kings like Xerxes and Darius played integral roles in Jewish history — particularly Cyrus, who contributed to the rebuilding of the temple and the return of the Jewish remnant from captivity. What was once Persia is now modern Iran.

Christian missionary work in Iran started in the early 1800s with missionary Henry Martyn. Dedicated Presbyterian missionaries followed in the 1900s, which resulted in a very small group of born-again believers from Islam.

Iran’s Pentecostal movement was initiated by Armenian and Assyrian minority groups. In a remarkable act of sacrifice, the tiny group gave up worship in their own languages and held their services in Farsi, thereby reaching out to the Muslim majority community.

But by 1970, when veteran AGWM missionaries Jim and Eloise Neely arrived, it is estimated that less than 1,000 Christian believers of Muslim background existed in Iran. Response to the gospel was minimal.

They persevered through the Islamic revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini’s takeover in February 1979. That summer, when they left for furlough after their second term, Jim and Eloise and their children were the last AG missionary family to leave the rapidly changing country.

The Neelys joyfully report that today God is doing remarkable things among Iranians, both in Iran and worldwide.

By 2007, the number of Muslim-background believers in Iran had risen to 100,000. Today, estimates place the number somewhere between 350,000 and 600,000.

Jim and Eloise recently purchased over 2,000 New Testaments for distribution.

“Iranians are open to receiving Scripture,” Eloise says. “Scriptures really speak to them. One of the greatest ways to bring them to Christ is giving them the Bible in their own language as they are a poetic people and value artistic language highly. The Holy Spirit uses it to stir them deeply.”

“The Bible is powerful,” Jim agrees. “Though Islam claims the Old Testament belongs to the Jews, the New Testament to the Christians, and the Koran to Muslims, we believe that if Muslims get into the Bible — God’s Word — it will draw people to Christ.”

Despite martyrdoms and persecution, hundreds of thousands of Iranian Christians still meet in secret. Iran boasts the fastest growing Christian population of the Muslim world — estimated to be growing by nearly 20 percent each year, despite a government that stands in vehement opposition to Jesus Christ.

Even within Iran’s Islamic military, the Neelys are aware of at least one Iranian Muslim who, after being drafted, encountered a fellow soldier who had become a believer. His restless soul found rest in the presence of the Christian man, and soon he accepted Christ for himself. 

“The Holy Spirit is drawing Iranians to himself in unprecedented numbers,” AGWM Communications Director Andy Raatz says. “When our workers begin the conversation, countless Iranian hearts are immediately ready to respond and receive the message of Jesus’ grace. Reflecting on history reminds us that borders are not truly closed to the gospel when the Holy Spirit is at work.”

Raatz shares a story from a Christian Iranian man serving his home country with an AGWM team. An elderly Iranian gentleman he met while traveling appealed urgently to him, “I really want to know Jesus. I have seen miracles, but I do not know God. I want to know Him. Talk about Jesus to me.”

Source: AG News

Refocused Attention

Luis D. Hernandez retired in June after 38 years as pastor of Light of the World Assembly of God Church in Rochester, New York, and has passed the baton of ministry at the church to Ruben Serrano, 46. But at 66, Hernandez isn’t finished with ministry.

In September, Hernandez began a Bible study at Harbor Town Tower, a local apartment complex where most residents are unable to get to church due to disability or age. He meets with 10 residents who participate in a one-hour Bible study followed by a prayer hour. The ministry is an extension of what began as an outreach two years ago of church services with meals.

Serrano plans to continue the community outreach ministry at Light of the World with back-to-school rallies, clergy patrol with the police officers, block ministry, and providing worship services and food at two apartment buildings. The church also has ministry teams that visit hospitals and a homeless feeding program.

Light of the World, the first bilingual Hispanic church in Rochester, met in a storefront when Hernandez took over with two dozen attendees. It currently attracts 180 regular attendees on Sunday mornings.

“I never wanted to be a pastor,” Hernandez says. “I didn’t think I could have the patience to work with a congregation.”

Of course nearly four decades of ministry proved otherwise. Hernandez may wind up back where he started in ministry. As a youth, Hernandez worked with Adult and Teen Challenge in New York City, and he still has a passion to see people find freedom from addiction. He is troubled by the growing heroin epidemic in metro Rochester.

“For this generation now, God has a plan,” Hernandez says. “I am asking God for His direction.”

Source: AG News

Out of the Ashes

Kenelma Salamanca’s Maestras del Bien (“teachers of good”) ministry in violent gang-infested Southern California neighborhoods near Los Angeles reached the backbone of the community: single moms and widows. As a ministry of Ministerio a la Luz de la Palabra, the Compton, California, Assemblies of God congregation she co-pastors with her husband, Mario, Kenelma witnessed phenomenal results.

The church of 200, which meets in an old theater, opened a food bank. The Salamancas preached the Word of God to the largely blue-collar immigrant community, most of whom are from their native El Salvador. In the areas the church reaches, the average household income is $20,000. Even though many of those within the congregation themselves qualify for public assistance, the church launched a food bank to help others in the needy neighborhood, especially women.

“These are the moms of gang members,” says Mario Salamanca, 44. “Many are also members of the church. It’s open to everybody.”

While pastoring the church and raising two sons, Mario worked on a doctorate at Fuller Theological Seminary, while Kenelma studied for a master’s in social work. Many received help from the church food bank, but Kenelma realized that provided only temporary relief.

“You give them a bag of food, but you don’t solve their problems,” she says. “You help them that day, and two days later they’re once more needing assistance.”

In social work classes, Salamanca says she heard about the need to not just supply fish, but also to provide the tools for fishing.

But fishing poles cost money.

“We have no money,” Salamanca, 43, says of the church comprised of domestic servants, construction and factory workers, and scrap-metal collectors. But she knew the power of the Holy Spirit could accomplish what money couldn’t.

“We just need willingness,” she says.

So, Salamanca gathered a group of women and shared her vision to provide the women with more.

“We can’t do that unless we empower them,” she says. One way involved offering microloans to start small businesses. Those in the church made pupusas (thick Salvadoran tortillas) to sell, held yard sales, and accepted monthly pledges.

When the fund reached $2,000, the church decided to start looking for recipients. That turned out to be difficult, as it entailed interviews, home visits, and prayerful consideration. Salamanca says that the choice entailed determining “who really wants to get out of their cycle of I don’t have enough to buy food or pay the rent?”

In the early 2010s, the Maestras del Bien program guided the microloan recipients in opening bank accounts, basic money management, and other business skills. The results proved phenomenal. One $500 microloan recipient founded a jewelry business so successful she bought a house. Maestras del Bien also helped women by teaching them the Bible, providing self-esteem-boosting emotional support, and teaching crafts and vocational skills.

A DIRE DIAGNOSIS

But as the church and ministry flourished, in 2012 Salamanca began to feel ill. The shocking diagnosis: advanced acute lymphoblastic leukemia with the dreaded Philadelphia chromosome, which makes this blood cancer especially resistant to treatment.

Salamanca’s case appeared to be so severe that upon being admitted for a 30-day hospitalization, doctors told her she had a maximum of two weeks to live.

“They wouldn’t give me any hope,” she says, adding that doctors initially said that a bone marrow transplant wouldn’t help her.

The Lord began to minister to her.

“I was broken, but that’s when the vision started,” Salamanca says. “Deep down, God aligned a lot of things in me I needed to resolve. I go back to that night and it gives me the strength to move forward.”

After eight months of intense chemotherapy, doctors opened the door to a transplant.

“I know God was in the midst of it,” Salamanca says. During her treatment, she gained a quiet confidence that the Lord wanted her to continue ministering to women.

“I’m in a hospital bed — do you think I’m going to negotiate with God?” Salamanca asks.

In the end, Salamanca didn’t ask God to heal her. She simply surrendered her future to Him. That marked her turning point, as well as a change in the Maestras del Bien ministry.

“He turned me back to the women,” Salamanca says.

In 2013, Salamanca received a bone marrow transplant.

A NEW FOCUS

She returned to ministry and revamped the outreach. First, she ended the microloan program in favor of expanding rigorous Bible-based classes. An example is the “Who am I?” class based on Ephesians 1. She talks about personality types, character formation, and past experiences.

My priority is for them to see where they’re coming from genetically and spiritually, how they are emotionally, and why they’re there,” Salamanca says. Additionally, each student learns a craft. Salamanca believes the classes have been more productive than the microloans.

“I see how the women have grown in their ministries, and in their homes with their kids,” she says. Many in the program never graduated from high school because they had to leave their home countries, or never even attended school because they had to work.

Salamanca says God showed her that many women failed to realize their potential.

“We all get stuck sometimes,” Salamanca says. “Our classes focus on intellectual development. We’re showing them that if they want to learn, they can learn.”

After the women take around 10 classes, the church holds a graduation ceremony with caps and gowns.

“The graduations of our classes are empowering emotionally for the women,” she says. “The women accomplish something.” Salamanca encourages graduates to launch their own outreaches to other women, and some have opened businesses.

Maestras del Bien has expanded throughout the AG Southern Pacific District, and to Mexico and El Salvador. District Superintendent Sergio Navarrete first met Salamanca as an energetic Bible student, then struck by leukemia.

“God has prepared her to minister in a higher way,” Navarrete says. “At first it was very sad, but now we are seeing the power of healing and prayer in her life.”

Navarrete has asked Salamanca to train other women in the district’s 343 churches.

Salamanca, cancer free and fully healed, regularly returns to City of Hope, the Los Angeles hospital where she received her transplant, to minister to those undergoing treatment.

Source: AG News