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

This Week in AG History — November 4, 1979<br />

Yoido Full Gospel Church (YFGC), with 830,000 members, is well-known for being the largest church in the world. The Assemblies of God congregation, located in Seoul, South Korea, was started by Yonggi Cho in 1958. However, some readers may be surprised to learn that the congregation’s growth is due in large part to the ministry of women. In a 1979 Pentecostal Evangel article, Yonggi Cho shared how the Holy Spirit prompted him to train and empower women ministers — despite the negative view of Korean culture toward women leaders. These women became the backbone of the church’s cell group structure.

Yonggi Cho’s ministry in Seoul began with dreams and visions. As a newly minted Bible college graduate, he had a dream that he was going to someday pastor the largest church in Korea. People scoffed at this dream, which he believed God had given to him. He worked very hard, and after six months he had used all of his sermons and wore himself out.

The young pastor became depressed and grew uncertain of his calling. Up to that point, Yonggi Cho had believed that he had already “graduated” from the “school of the Holy Spirit.” He believed that he could build the church through his own efforts. In desperation, Yonggi Cho cried out to God, seeking guidance for his life and ministry. He sensed God respond, “The Holy Spirit is the senior partner in your ministry. You are the junior partner. Every minute you must recognize Him, welcome Him, and the Holy Spirit will flow through you and bring sinners to your church.”

This realization of the importance of depending on the Holy Spirit was a turning point in Yonggi Cho’s ministry. As he drew close to God, he could sense God’s leading. Doors opened up, countless thousands of people came to faith in Christ, and the church grew. 

However, Yonggi Cho began to grow prideful. He was in his 20s and already had 2,500 church members. But with this pride came a fall. He again wore himself out, unable to keep up with the demands of a large and growing congregation. He sensed the Lord direct him to delegate some of his pastoral duties to laypersons, who would establish cell groups that would meet in homes across Seoul. 

At first, Yonggi Cho approached various men in the congregation to become leaders of cell groups. The men declined, responding that they lacked proper training and that they did not want to invade the privacy of their homes. They additionally noted, “We pay you to do that kind of work.”

Again discouraged, Yonggi Cho turned to the Lord in prayer. He sensed the Holy Spirit tell him, “Why don’t you try a woman?” He argued with the Lord, replying, “Try a woman! This is not America: this is Korea. In Korea women cannot have leadership.” God began to work in Yonggi Cho’s heart to overcome his cultural prejudice regarding women.

From that moment, Yonggi Cho began to take notice of the numerous examples of women ministers in Scripture. Previously he allowed his culture’s prohibition of women leaders to blind him to the biblical warrant for women in ministry.

Yonggi Cho shared his vision for cell group ministry with some women in the church, and they eagerly asked how they could assist. He began training women how to preach and lead, and women became the backbone of YFGC’s cell groups. The cell groups multiplied rapidly, fueling the congregation’s growth.

Outsiders who marvel at Yoido Full Gospel Church’s size often ask about the senior pastor or the church building, wondering what caused such growth. But Yonggi Cho, in his 1979 Pentecostal Evangel article, instead pointed to the cell groups, led largely by women, which he identified as vital to the church’s growth.

Read Yonggi Cho’s article, “God Gave Me a Dream,” on pages 8 to 11 of the Nov. 4, 1979, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “How to Tell False Prophets” by C. M. Ward

• “Standing True in Perilous Times” by Kenneth D. Barney

• “Sinning by Mistake,” by Stanley M. Horton

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

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

IMAGE – Deaconesses who helped pioneer Yoido Full Gospel Church, 1960s.

Source: AG News

Splitting Wood for Speed the Light

When Ty Smith woke up Sunday morning, he could barely move.

He couldn’t sit up in his bed because his abdominal muscles were in complete rebellion.

He couldn’t push himself up with his arms, as they had been stressed beyond their limits.

So, ironically, like a log, he rolled to the edge of his bed, allowing his legs to slip over the edge in order for their weight to pull him up — and even that was a fresh experience in pain. As his youth pastor, Zack Green, recalls, Smith later said, the only thing that didn’t hurt was his face.

But that was a sacrifice Smith was willing to make in order to raise funds for Speed the Light (STL), the missions program sponsored by Assemblies of God National Youth Ministries that provides equipment, including vehicles, for missionaries around the world.

On Saturday, the 18-year-old Smith had committed to split 1,000 logs as a missions fundraiser, having gained support through pledges and one-time gifts. Smith used a splitting maul and a splitting axe for the effort . . . well, make that two splitting axes as he snapped the head off of one of them in an overswing.

“We got out there early in the morning — it was 26 degrees,” says Green. “Then we started unloading these ginormous stumps from a trailer, hundreds of them. We set up a line of 15 huge stumps, then placed smaller stumps on top of them. Ty then went down the line splitting them and we would place new stumps on top.”

Smith says that a team had gone out on Friday and used a chainsaw to take down some old oak trees to use for the fundraiser, delivering the load to the James River Church parking lot in Ozark, Missouri, that night.

With the help of his father, Justin; mother, Tami; and younger sister, Madi; youth pastors; and friends from the church, Smith began chopping at 7:30 a.m. and finished the last log at 2:30 p.m. When done, “tired and sore” was a nice way to put it. “Let’s just say that on Sunday, I was holding a bag of potato chips and after about 30 seconds, I had to put it down,” Smith says with a laugh.

“I saw the beginning of supernatural strength,” Green says. “Ty was about 180 logs in and he started talking about his shoulder hurting and his arms being weak . . . the determination and faith this guy has is absolutely inspiring . . . we prayed before, during, and after for God’s provision and for God’s strength for Ty.”

But doing a thousand of something isn’t a new endeavor for Smith. Two years ago, he hit 1,000 golf balls to raise money for STL. Last year, he shot 1,000 arrows. This year was by far his most difficult physical challenge. However, the effort has already seen more than $5,000 raised (more than $16,000 over the three years) with more money still coming in.

Green says that Smith’s effort has, in some ways, gone viral. Other districts, church youth groups, and individuals have heard of Smith’s “Do a Thousand” challenges and are following suit. Smith dreams of seeing 1,000 youth groups or individuals participating and each raising $1,000 in order to raise $1 million for STL.

Smith has also inspired many of the James River students and small groups to each do a special “one thousand” fundraiser this coming weekend, with the goal for each group to raise $1,000.

“We’re so proud of Ty and what God is doing through him,” Green says.

Of course, there is one James River Church member who was especially blessed by Smith’s effort: The member who donated the trees. Not only did he get the dead trees cut down and removed for free, Smith gave him the split wood back to use in his fireplace this winter!

Source: AG News

Living Free

For Marie Carter, addiction was so powerful it didn’t matter who she hurt. 

She began abusing drugs and alcohol at 14 years of age and by 17 had gotten pregnant in the hopes that starting a family would help her escape problems.

“I wanted to be a good mother, but I was selfish and wanted to party and be young,” she says. “By this time in my life I was feeling hopeless and incapable of being a good person.”

Continuing to struggle with addiction into her 20s, Carter used stronger drugs with more frequency. In a new relationship, and with more children to care for, she and her husband, Mason, spent tens of thousands of dollars to support their habit.

“We were nearly broke and selling everything we had, including our home,” Carter says. “We were such a mess, and our children had to face the consequences of our actions.” 

Even after being arrested for stealing money from her sister-in-law, losing her job, and being threatened with losing custody of her children by social services, Carter still didn’t feel motivated enough to turn her life around.

Finally, in the summer of 2013, Carter went to mandated treatment after being arrested. She says she sensed God telling her to reach out to Tunya Adams, who had ministered to her over the years, as pastor of Living Hope Assembly of God in Cynthiana, Kentucky.

At Living Free everything changed. 

“My heart and my mind opened to God and what He had planned for my life,” says Carter, 39. “I have many positive people in my life that are willing to help me when I struggle. I know what I must do to remain free from drugs and the lifestyle that once disabled me.”

Clayton Arp, vice president of Living Free Community, says churches must be at the forefront in responding to the opioid crisis impacting the U.S., and nonresidential treatment options are an important piece of solving the epidemic.

“The statistic of addicts going into residential programs is only 11 percent,” says Arp, who is a U.S. missionary. says. “We’ve got to take this out of these walls.”

Living Free started almost 20 years ago, when Arp and John DeSanctis, then with Teen Challenge, saw the need for a nonresidential recovery program. They created Lifeline Connections using the Living Free curriculum created by Jimmy Ray Lee, a U.S. missionary and now Living Free president emeritus. In 2005, the program became the preferred nonresident ministry model for Adult & Teen Challenge. 

Joseph S. Batluck Sr., president of Adult & Teen Challenge International USA, says Living Free is a dynamic program.

“They are on the front lines of community engagement and impact the lives of addicts and family members with the message of freedom and hope through Jesus Christ,” Batluck says.

The Living Free model is required to be used in a community for two years before opening a residential U.S. Missions Adult & Teen Challenge facility, Batluck says. 

The small group approach helps churches reach out to people experiencing life-controlling problems, including substance abuse, to find Christ-centered solutions.

The organization says the program is in more than 50 countries and nearly one million people have participated. Around 40 Assemblies of God churches in the U.S. have implemented nonresidential Living Free small group curriculum.

As drug use and overdose deaths grow nationwide and among churchgoers themselves, Arp says pastors must begin to address the issue directly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 64,000 people nationwide died from drug overdoses in 2016.

“The rural areas of America are hit the hardest,” Arp says. “In the cities, we’re used to some of this stuff, and there are programs.”

The main ways Living Free helps an addicted individual are referral to residential treatment for someone who needs and chooses more intensive services; relationships that provide small group support for recovery; realignment to help families support the change in lifestyle; and re-establishment that focuses on those coming out of prison and residential programs to ease the transition into their communities and into a church.

“This opioid crisis is real,” Arp says. “This is the heart of the church to reach out to the hurting.”

Today, Carter, mother of four, works in Kentucky at a nonprofit called Bluegrass that provides outpatient support to individuals and families in the areas of mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

She advocates for people facing the same drug court from which she graduated.

“I live free from the bondage of addiction, but I never forget how quickly my life can get back to the bottom of that barrel where I was just four short years ago,” Carter says. “I am grateful that I made the choice to walk into that church and was led to the Living Free program.”

Adams continues to lead the Living Free class that Carter attends.

Source: AG News

AG Church Gifted Building — Times Two<br />

When Josh and Gina Kennedy wanted to start holding a Bible study about seven years ago, they just wanted a place to study Scripture and build relationships. Josh began the search for a place to meet and before he knew it, he was the pastor of a new church plant.

Sheridan is a small town about 30 miles north of Indianapolis with a population of less than 3,000, which means there aren’t a lot of places available to rent to conduct a church service. However, a store front church closed its doors and the owner of the building offered the fledgling Issachar Church the space to meet in at no charge for a few months to see if it fit their needs.

That was the first of many miracles to come.

“I started getting calls from different pastors,” Josh Kennedy recalls. “They’d ask me, ‘What are you doing?’ because I was in prayer and God told me to give you . . .” The church was gifted its chairs, soundboard, and other ministry supplies as God led area ministers to help the new church.

The name of the church, Issachar, Gina explains, comes from 1 Chronicles 12:32, which says the tribe of Issachar knew the days they lived in and knew what must be done.

In what some might call a foreshadowing of things to come, the Kennedys, who are both 42, says the church’s first outreach was held from midnight to 2 a.m. in front of a local bar, where they served pancakes and coffee to patrons as they left. 

As time passed, the small church of about 15 grew to about 45 people, but they were having to move from place to place, and each relocation seemed to peel away a few people from the church, while new faces began to arrive. The unsettled nature of the constant relocating led Josh and Gina to look for a permanent home for the church. 

Purchasing a permanent location was a great idea that had the support of church members, but lacked two key ingredients: money and available buildings. 

As the Kennedys searched, the bar that the church had held its first outreach outside of kept drawing them back. It had been closed for about three years now and was for sale, but the owner wanted $120,000 — it may as well have been $1 million as the church didn’t have that kind of cash.

“The building was in horrible shape,” Josh says, who is bi-vocational. “The city was on the verge of condemning it.” 

Over a period of six months, Josh would meet with the owner several times, explaining how the church would also benefit the community financially as it was already helping people write resumes and do well in job interviews — only it would expand those ministries.  

The owner lowered the price to $70,000, but it was still out of range. Finally, after fasting and prayer and upon the advice of their mentor, Cecil Adams, senior pastor of First Assembly of God, Killeen, Texas, the Kennedys decided to simply ask the owner to give them the building outright.  

When Josh arrived and shared how he had been trying to raise the money to buy the building, but the grants and other avenues kept falling through, the owner surprised him. He said the day before his accountant had recommended he just give the building to him. “I ended up signing a few papers and left with a building in my pocket,” he says, disbelief still tinging his voice.

The church began the renovation of the late-1800s, 8,000-square-foot building in August 2016 — reroofing it and removing 18 40-yard dumpsters of debris and trash from the facility. The plan is to have the facility totally renovated by this time next year.

Adams says that the Kennedys are very innovative and creative, and did a terrific job serving as the children’s pastors at First Assembly for a number of years. “He comes back and preaches about once a year,” Adams says. “So, as the church board knows them so well, when we sold our old building, we paid a tithe of that to Issachar Church to help them with their renovations.”

Then, in June, a leader from the local Quaker church approached Gina. The church wanted to sell them their building. 

“It was a well-maintained church and seats about 200 people,” Gina says, “but it was still a classic 1880s building and really wouldn’t meet our needs or vision for impacting our community.” 

Then came the asking price.  

One dollar.

At first, the Kennedys were confused. What was God doing? The Quaker church was move-in ready, but wasn’t what the church or community needed and their church didn’t need to move locations yet again; the former bar was well into the renovation process and was in the ideal location, but wouldn’t be ready for a year.

But God knew what was coming. 

“Three days later, I received a call from the Internal Revenue Service,” Josh says. “The location we had been renting for the church, apparently the owner owed back taxes and the property was being seized and sold. We had two weeks to remove all of our stuff.” 

Issachar Church has been meeting at the new “$1 location” since July and the Kennedys still marvel at God’s provision. “Two buildings were given to us in less than a year, what a phenomenal experience!” Josh says.  

“I believe in Josh and Gina Kennedy,” states Don Gifford, Indiana district superintendent. “Josh is a man of integrity and hard work and God has shown them favor.”

A lot of things have changed in the community since Issachar Church began meeting and praying. Alcoholism is a big challenge in the community. Issachar Church identified this and immediately started a prayer team that goes to specific areas and “Prays on site with Insight” and God doing the rest. 

“The bar that we’re renovating was a pretty shady place,” Josh admits with a bit of a laugh. “I met a guy while I was prayer walking the neighborhood and he knew of the place. He told me, ‘Yeah, I stabbed a guy there once . . . , I’ll have to come see you guys.’” 

Progress on the renovation continues to be made. The church has a $60,000 new roof, the interior has been stripped to a shell, plumbing and HVAC systems are being added, and Josh says they are less than $40,000 from completing the renovation.

But for now, the Kennedys and the congregation of Issachar Church are focused on taking things a step at a time as God provides for the renovation and meeting the needs of their community, spiritually and financially. Gina explains that the church invests a lot of time in helping people find and get jobs, and that in spring, they will also start offering financial stewardship classes.  

“We’ve basically been living out of a suitcase [as a church],” Josh says. “Now we have a place that is our own and it will enable us to do better and more effective outreach.”

Source: AG News

The Kickstarter Gospel

When Jordan Donaldson, 26, Giancarlo Ospina, 26, and Jesse Tyler, 23 — all born and raised in the Assemblies of God — launched their collaborative Kickstarter campaign, “Manuscripts,” at noon on Oct. 24, they had no idea their $12,000 project would be fully funded within a mere five hours.

“When we saw that we were 100 percent funded by 5 p.m., we were incredibly surprised,” Donaldson says. “We realized how blessed we were, and we were so encouraged to see people excited about reading Scripture.”

“Manuscripts” is a project that aims to make reading Scripture less overwhelming for a novice, by printing books of the Bible in pocket-sized, easy-to-read volumes.

“The Bible can be daunting,” Donaldson says. “It is good and it can speak for itself, but, as a whole, it can be intimidating for someone to open up.”

The idea originally came to Ospina while sitting in a Bible class at Missouri State University. Ospina says that as he grasped that individual authors wrote Scripture as separate books, he became convinced that’s the way it could be presented to modern readers.

“We have the Bible on our phones but, I thought how cool would it be to read it in its ‘original’ form,” Ospina recalls. “It seemed like it would be a normal thing to do.”

Donaldson, Tyler, and Ospina were roommates and attendees of James River College in Ozark, Missouri.

Tyler says when verse numbers are removed, each book can be read as a unique story. Additionally, by printing each book separately, production quality increases with use of a larger font and thicker pages.

“The Bible now looks like something you’ve read before,” Tyler says. This familiarity is what the three hope will encourage a broader audience to engage in Scripture.  

Tyler says that even though he grew up attending Calvary Lighthouse in Lakewood, New Jersey, once on his own and in a different community, he began to wonder what he really knew about the Bible beyond what he had heard from the pulpit.

“I came back to the Bible,” Tyler says. “Bible reading has got to be step 1. It is the thing you can go to and trust, no matter where you have been in life.”

Donaldson, who now lives in New York City and attends Living Waters Fellowship, says the goal of the project is to deliver Scripture in a contemporary and casual manner. The overarching objective, he says, is for the books to be read. Donaldson says that the team designed the layout be user friendly.

“Put it in your pocket, let it get a little roughed up,” Donaldson says. “Bend the pages where you’ve left off. That’s what it is made for.”

Donaldson, Ospina, and Tyler have received tremendous support for their project both on and off of their Kickstarter site. The trio say they have received multiple comments from unchurched and non-Christian individuals who promise to read the books.

The team agrees that the long-term goals of the project include printing every book in the Bible in “collections.”

“Think ‘The Pentateuch’, ‘Letters of Paul,’, or ‘Minor Prophets,’ Ospina says. Additionally, the team hopes that as the project expands, they will be able to bring production costs down so that churches can receive copies of certain books, particularly the Gospel of John, to give to first-time attendees.

Assemblies of God General Superintendent Doug E. Clay thinks the strategy is both smart and needed.

“It excites me to see this project emerging, because I believe in instilling a core value of biblical literacy among the next generation of Assemblies of God adherents,” Clay says. “What an incredible way to get Scripture in the hands of the next generation!”

Source: AG News

SEU Announces First Ph.D. Program<br />

Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, has announced two new doctoral programs —  a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership and a Doctorate of Strategic Leadership (DSL), bringing the total number of doctoral degrees SEU offers up to four (the Ed.D. began in 2014 and the D.Min. in 2016). This is the first Ph.D. program for the university. The inaugural cohort for the Ph.D. and DSL degrees will begin classes in May of 2018, with a five-day intensive for students.

“The program was started to provide doctoral-level Christian education in leadership studies,” said Dr. Ric Rohm, the program’s coordinator. The program is geared to prospective students who desire the highest levels of leadership education.

“We are extremely proud of this milestone accomplishment, which furthers our ongoing commitment to provide educational stewardship in the area of leadership,” said SEU President, Dr. Kent Ingle. “I also want to commend Dr. Ric Rohm, Dr. Leroy VanWhy, and Dr. Emile Hawkins whose collaborative efforts were instrumental in bringing these programs to fruition.”

Hawkins has a Doctorate of Strategic Leadership and focuses on coaching and consulting with church leaders. VanWhy earned a Ph.D. in Organization Leadership and is an expert in authentic leadership and followership. Rohm also earned a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership with a focus on cross-cultural and servant leadership. All three have distinguished U.S. military careers.

Ph.D. students will focus more on research methods in preparation for their dissertation, while DSL students will focus on completing courses to help them in consulting and preparing for their capstone project. The first cohort will take the same classes for two years, before separating for their preferred degree.

The programs follow a hybrid format with both face-to-face and online instruction, including in-person intensives conducted each semester (fall, spring, and summer). The courses are offered in eight-week sessions. The Ph.D. consists of 16 courses (48 credit hours), plus a minimum of 12 credit hours of dissertation work, while the DSL consists of 18 courses (54 credit hours), plus a minimum of six hours of capstone project work. Core classes for the program include “Followership,” “Cultural Intelligence,” and “Servant and Authentic Leadership.”

In addition to Rohm, Hawkins, and VanWhy, the program plans to bring on three more faculty members. Select professors within the university will also serve as adjunct professors in the program.

Students pursuing a Ph.D. may find careers such as college/university professor, researcher or think tank consultants. DSL students will be trained for careers such as organizational consultants, executive coaches and positions in executive leadership.

The program is currently pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Admission requirements include a master’s degree, a resume or curriculum vitae, two professional letters of recommendation, an admission essay, and a doctoral writing sample. For more information on the program, visit SEU.edu/leadership-doctoral.

Source: AG News

Rural Pentecostal Lights

There are 88 towns in West Texas with a school, but no Assemblies of God church. That number has dropped from 93 in 2009, when John T. Murdoch, 67, senior pastor of Christian Life in Lubbock, Texas, took action to reopen a closed AG church in nearby Brownfield.

That church, now named Christian Life Church as well, had closed after defaulting on a loan. Murdoch, with the blessing of the West Texas District presbyter and superintendent, took over the unpaid note, gave the facility a facelift, found a pastor, and reopened the church eight months later. Before closing, the church had fewer than 20 regular attenders. Today it averages 90.

Since then, Murdoch, with the support of his wife, Sue, and Christian Life, has rescued or reopened five more churches in rural West Texas towns. No two stories are exactly the same. Murdoch prays regularly for these towns, and when he hears of a church closing or struggling, he asks questions, prays some more, and waits on the Lord.

“If God gives us an open door, we go,” says Murdoch. “We don’t have specific goals for planting churches, but if we know there is a need, we’re open if God is.”

In 1985, Murdoch says he had a vision of a revival in sparsely populated West Texas, one that would “spread to the four corners of the world.” He still holds that vision in his heart, and it’s what keeps him going after 45 years of ministry.

The vision is unfolding. West Texas is saturated with resettled refugees from those four corners, and is also home to a huge Hispanic population. Abundant Life, a Christian Life affiliate church in Post, Texas, is a predominantly Hispanic and African-American church. Another, Lifepoint Church in Dumas, Texas, is reaching 19 different language groups through an English as a second language program it hosts and administers for Moore County.

Lifepoint celebrated its first anniversary on Easter 2016. In its first year, 15 people were baptized and several couples who met at the church married.

“It’s a testimony that God is doing something here,” says Jared B. Berry, 35, pastor of Lifepoint.

Murdoch called on Berry and his wife, Candice, to pastor Lifepoint and oversee the ESL program.

“I felt I shouldn’t pastor, but when that call came I knew God had other plans,” says Berry. “Pastor John doesn’t give up on people.”

Christian Life’s other affiliated churches are Canadian River Cowboy Church in Borger; One Way in McLean, which recently merged with First Baptist Church at that pastor’s request; and Springs of Life in Roaring Springs, a church that had closed after dwindling to five attendees, with the property sold. Murdoch stepped in after an 80-year-old woman called to tell him she had nowhere to go to church.

“I promised her she would be the first member of a new church and would see it full,” says Murdoch.

Before the woman died, Springs of Life had as many as 100 people in attendance, according to Murdoch.

“No church is too small if it’s got people in it, no matter how many,” Murdoch says. “Jesus died for everybody. Every person counts.”

Source: AG News

The Rural Reality of Poverty

Sometimes images of Andy Griffith and Mayberry form our perception of rural America. Unfortunately, realities of poverty and isolation are closer to the truth of what the average small town community experiences today.

Current poverty rates in rural America exceed the poverty rates in urban communities, and there are significantly less social services available to address these needs, according to the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services (NACRHHS). Persistent poverty counties have poverty rates of 20 percent or higher, and 88 percent of persistent poverty counties are rural.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that one in four children in rural America lives in poverty. And rural areas have more single guardian households than urban areas. People in rural areas also struggle with unemployment, substance abuse, and domestic abuse. According to NACRHHS, a rural teen is more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol than an urban teen. Pew Research Center declared drug abuse to be the leading problem in rural America.

As Christians we know that statistics are not the full picture, but we must ask ourselves: If the church vanished from these small towns, would anyone notice? Instead of asking, “How big is your church?” we should ask, “How is your church impacting its community?”

THE CHURCH’S STRATEGIC ROLE

Several years back, I heard a lecture on small communities. The professor’s research revealed what I have observed. In the past, there were three foundations of a small town: the family, public schools. and the local church. The community often centered around the local church. Over time, the family unit splintered, local churches lost much of their influence, and only public schools remained as a foundation in small towns. Despite this shift, the local church is still the best equipped to facilitate healthy development within communities.

Recently, a friend purchased a pair of jeans for over $100, replete with designer holes and frays. His grandmother offered to wash his laundry while he was away, and after returning home, he found that Grandma had patched the holes and cut off the frays of his jeans. Grandma didn’t understand the value of the frayed jeans.

Likewise, outsiders of a small town often do not understand the community’s local culture and its interpersonal relationships. Because the church is made up of its community and because it is God’s highest order in a community, the local church can and must once again become a foundational entity in small town life.

A CHANGE IN FOCUS

Rural church pastors often understand the vastness of the poverty around them. They may wonder — while often battling their own limited resources — how they can minister to their community in need. Often, learning how to serve in these situations begins with a change in focus.

In Crazy Love, Francis Chan says, “Christians are like manure: Spread them out and they help everything grow better, but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly!”

Hiding behind the four walls of the church building makes the church itself ineffective and inconsequential. However, when a church longs to roll up its sleeves, spread out and collaborate together with their communities, a powerful force to address rural poverty can finally be unlocked.

CHRISTIAN COMMUNITARIANS

Rural Compassion works in over 1,000 communities, partnering with multiple churches of different denominations to train and coach their pastors to become communitarians. We suggest church leaders spend up to one-third of their time working with community stakeholders. Collaboration between the church, schools, civic circles, and government is essential. One rural pastor tells his story of becoming a communitarian:

I met with three law enforcement agency leaders, as well as the mayor, fire chief, Justice Court judge, soccer commissioner, directors of the counseling center, and the Chamber of Commerce. I also contacted hospice, the owners of the mortuary, hardware and lumberyard businesses, and the building inspector. I attended multi-faith ministers meetings and made myself available to the hospital and the assisted care facility. My wife partnered with the local schools. Through these contacts, we are seeing how the church can intentionally serve the community.

Other ways of addressing community needs can include honoring public servants, offering classroom supplies for teachers, becoming a reading buddy in the schools, coaching sports teams, and undertaking community work projects.

Rural Compassion also resources churches in small towns. This year we will give away over 125,000 pairs of new shoes through the rural church to children in the local schools. All of these create intentional relationships through which we can collectively address the needs of poverty and ultimately share the love of Christ.

As the church positions itself as an important leader in its community to serve the dire needs rural communities face, we begin to see those same communities become places where children and families flourish. Thanks to local pastors and church congregants with ambition to collaborate with their communities and local stakeholders, there is a fresh spirit stirring through rural American communities.

This article originally appeared in Evangelicals magazine.

 

Source: AG News

Full Circle for Gavin Brown

Gavin L. Brown has returned to his childhood church, Lifehouse Church in Beltsville, Maryland, to serve as its first African-American lead pastor.

Brown, 35, grew up in a low-income residential housing complex with his parents and five sisters in Laurel, Maryland. He started attending Royal Rangers meetings, and soon sensed a call to ministry. With the help of the nonprofit organization First Generation College Bound and its Homework Club, Brown graduated high school and attended the University of Valley Forge.

He now serves as board chairman for the Laurel-based First Generation. The organization, which helps struggling students beginning in grade school, provides tutoring and encouragement, offers college application help and financial aid counsel, and follows up as the students prepare for college.

Brown ministered in Maryland churches in Bowie and Lutherville, as well as in Novi, Michigan, before coming full circle to the city of his childhood. His experiences growing up in section 8 housing have made him more sensitive to needs in the community.

This fall, the church donated 75 backpacks to Edwards Elementary School and to the International High School at Langley Park, and provided breakfast the first day back for the 130 faculty members of Laurel High School.

“I had the opportunity to speak to the teachers and let them know we are there to serve them,” says the confident Brown. “We are a church that is willing to roll up our sleeves and say, ‘This place can be better because we are here.’”

Christine Gilliard-Arthur, a member of the Lifehouse team, concurs.

“Lifehouse Church desires to be cheerful givers,” she says. “We believe we can help solve poverty, and connect our time and much-needed resources in our community and beyond by being generous.”

The church has hosted five funerals in the first five months of Brown’s leadership. Brown is able to understand the grief process his constituents experience. In 2005, Brown’s oldest sister Ton, died from a diabetic coma at age 24. Toni was pregnant at the time of her death. A year and a half later, Brown’s 22-year- old sister Lisa and her 7-month-old daughter, Labria, were fatally shot in the Brown family’s apartment in South Laurel.

“You can’t check on the sheep if you aren’t with the sheep,” Brown says. “I recognize that ministry is messy. People come from all kinds of hardship — financial, marital problems, and lost jobs. I’m not as shaken when these things come up because of what I have experienced.”

Brown learned about the ministry of being present when Cornerstone Assembly of God layman Gary Lauffer helped Brown process the family deaths he experienced.

“Gary told me, ‘I’m with you, Gavin, for the long haul,’ and he has been,” says Brown, who married his wife, Shekinah, in 2010. The couple has two daughters, Selah Joy, 3, and Myla Rae, 1.

Gilliard-Arthur says Brown’s desire to provide for people in the community is evident.

“Pastor Gavin is authentic, engaging. and connected to everyone around him,” she says.

When Brown sensed God moving him back to Maryland, he began conversations about starting a congregation through the Lifehouse Network, a church-planting affiliate in the Potomac Ministry Network.

The day Brown resigned from his position with Brightmoor Christian Church, he received notification about the possibility of returning to his home church.

“I was about to leave the office,” Brown remembers. “I was one step out, and the previous pastor texted me to tell me he would be resigning.”

The Lifehouse Network is now partnering with Brown in a revitalization project for the 86-year-old church, which will relaunch in January. At one point, the church hosted about 400 attendees on a weekly basis. When Brown arrived to serve as the interim pastor in March, about 55 attended on a typical Sunday. Currently, around 100 individuals are involved in the church.

“God still has us here for a reason,” says Brown, who attended a Church Multiplication Network training and launch event earlier this year.

Source: AG News