Church Camp: Where the Focus is Christ

In America today, it is not uncommon for parents from all walks of life to send their children to summer camps that help them develop their athletic, musical, or other God-given talents. Parents know that the camp is an investment in their child’s future, whether it’s for the short term (help them make the team next season) or the long term (earn a college scholarship or even a professional career).

Yet, when church youth camp is presented, there seems to be a disconnect by parents. The purpose of church camp is similar to any camp’s focus, but is arguably more vital and typically less expensive than any other summer camp. Church camp is the one camp where eternity matters. Kids aren’t focused on what they (or their parents) want to do with their lives, but what God wants to do in and through their lives.

“There are several purposes for camp,” says Darin Stroud, Kansas Ministry Network/district youth director (DYD) for the past 11 years. “The main one is to really assist students in developing their spiritual walk. We try to teach daily disciplines — Bible reading, praying, quiet time, just walking with the Lord every day.”

Parker Dickerson, the new DYD of the West Texas district and a former youth pastor and missionary, says, “Camp removes the distractions where kids are able to connect with Jesus. Our focus is on what God does at the altars.”

Stroud believes it’s important for parents to actively listen to their children and, if they have questions about something they see in their child’s life, not to be afraid to discuss possible solutions with their youth pastor.

“As a youth pastor, I tried to help parents understand that they can’t release a 13-year-old child to go develop their spiritual walk all on their own . . . throwing it up in the air and saying ‘I hope this works out,’” Stroud says. “Instead parents need to help out through family devotions, asking about quiet time, offering help with devotional journaling — intentionality is the key.”

“Parents also need to ask their kids the right kind of questions,” Dickerson says. “Ask questions that are thought-provoking; questions that can’t be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’”

Randy Hurst, director of communications for AG World Missions, is a strong supporter of church camp and recognizes the spiritual impact it can have on lives. “Many of our missionaries are called into missions at a young age,” Hurst says, “A significant number are called to missions during church camps.”

Tom Groot, director of Student Discipleship for the AG national Youth Ministries and the former DYD of the Ohio Ministries Network, believes church camp should be a priority for youth.

“Camps have been and will continue to be one of the most rewarding events on a youth ministry calendar,” Groot says. “The spiritual impact that camp has on students cannot be replicated in any other environment. Leaders invest their time, energy, and expertise into planning and managing summer camps. The ultimate impact camps have towards advancing God’s kingdom will only be fully realized when we all get to heaven.”

Stroud observes that God doesn’t limit His call to the mission field or pulpit. “I believe God also calls students to full-time ministry in the secular aspect, as Christian businesspeople,” he says.

Although Stroud and Dickerson agree that church camp is a place where revival can be launched and transformation in lives can occur, having opportunities in place for kids following church camp is also of vital importance. Instead of coming home to the normal routine, providing students opportunities to channel their excitement for the Lord and have the callings on their lives not only validated, but encouraged and nurtured, is key.

“During high school camps, we offer a session called ‘Explore the Call’ for students who feel they were called by God to some type of ministry,” Stroud says. “At that time, we go over the significance good and poor choices can make in future ministry. We also encourage students to connect with their youth pastor and pastor, volunteering to do whatever they can to help — even moving tables and chairs — while also seeking to be discipled.”

Stroud also offers district youth an annual “Lead from the Locker” event in January, where students are encourage to participate in missions trips, get involved in Speed the Light, and for those called to ministry, to begin setting themselves apart. “This isn’t about pulling away from people, but in their behavior,” he explains. “There is more expected and more responsibility for those who are called to represent Christ.”

Although relatively new to his position, Dickerson says he has already identified New Mexico’s Student Ministries Director Jarel Dickenson as someone who understands the need for follow-up.

“Every year, Jarel offers a ‘Called Camp,’ specifically for those students who feel they have a calling from God to ministry,” Dickerson says. “And that’s something I hope we can start here in West Texas.”

Dickerson also makes a significant point about the importance of developing the spiritual lives of youth. “We call our youth the church of tomorrow,” he observes, “but if we don’t equip our students and offer them opportunities to be the church today, they won’t be in the church tomorrow.”

Even though church camp is viewed by many as a prime opportunity for Christian students to hear from God, it is also an opportunity for students who don’t have a relationship with God to experience Him for the first time. Dickerson says he saw that very miracle take place in the first week of camp.

“The first night service at church camp this year, God was moving in a mighty way and everyone was at the altar except for these two kids. One of them told a counselor he didn’t believe in God,” Dickerson says. “We have electives in the mornings, and these two kids ended up in the ‘How to Share Your Faith’ elective. The leader called for a volunteer so he could demonstrate. One of the atheist boys volunteered to be someone who didn’t believe in God. The demonstration began and the boy started asking questions, then more and more questions, when suddenly he stopped, wide-eyed and said, ‘This is real! This is real!’ The leader stopped the session and led the boy in a sinner’s prayer right there. When he was through, the boy turned to his friend and says, ‘Dude, you gotta get this! God’s real!’ That night, both boys went to the altar, his friend accepted Christ, and they both spent the rest of the week getting after God!”

Stroud says that he’s had many experiences at camp, but the stories that mean the most to him are the ones he hears after camp is long over — maybe even years later. “I love hearing about the kid who had an encounter with God here at camp and it stuck,” Stroud says. “That instead of the roller coaster ride that can occur following camp, from that moment on, they’re growing in their walk with Christ — for me, that’s incredible!”

Dickerson and Stroud agree that church camp can be the catalyst for revival that could sweep the nation within the youth of the Assemblies of God. And from there, only God knows the impact of tens of thousands of youth who believe that God will use them to change the world.

Source: AG News

Blessings Beyond the Dial

A Christian radio network owned by the Illinois District Council of the Assemblies of God is reaching people for Christ across the state and beyond — on and off the air.

New Life Media Network, which is made up of WCIC and WBGL, covers 19 markets in Illinois, as well as parts of Indiana and Missouri. Additional coverage extending to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and the Quad Cities in Illinois and Iowa will begin next year. The stations also reach people in other parts of the nation and world through streaming. Listeners can hear the stations online or on a phone app.

Having such an outlet to share the gospel and to serve others is a huge blessing, according to Superintendent Phil Schneider.

“It serves as a great outreach arm for the district,” Schneider says.

God is working through the ministry in many different ways, from uplifting music and mission trips to answering listener prayers and assisting single mothers.

The network’s main tool for ministering is reaching through the radio airwaves. New Life Media Director Barry Copeland estimates the network has around 400,000 listeners. He believes radio is a nonthreatening way for non-Christians to learn more about the faith.

However, in an effort to deepen relationships in communities within the listener area, staff members have tried to spend more time outside the studio. Copeland is grateful for station personnel and volunteers who have a heart for serving.

“They want to touch lives face to face every day,” Copeland says.

Both stations serve single mothers in various ways. In addition to prayer and encouragement, staff and volunteers have provided car washes, oil changes, manicures, and haircuts. In 2015, the station helped 676 women via single mom events.

This summer, WBGL employees are traveling to 10 of the station’s markets to host free Backyard Bounce events for kids that feature bounce houses and live broadcasts. Last year, donors to Backyard Bounce gave more than $4,000 to Merci’s Refuge Pregnancy Resource Center.

WCIC partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters to recruit volunteer mentors or Lunch Buddies from three communities to meet with students. Jessie Browning, WCIC community engagement director, says these regular meetings provide students with a new friend to talk to about life.

“They’re a consistent presence in a child’s life, meeting with them once a week during the lunch hour, being a listening ear and letting the child know he or she is important,” Browning says. 

By connecting with people via the internet and through social media, the radio network has been inundated with prayer requests. Last year, online prayer centers answered 338,740 submitted prayer requests.

For Mother’s Day this year, WBGL staff asked listeners to submit the name and contact information of moms they thought could use an encouraging note. The station paired up nearly 500 moms with encouraging notes written by concerned listeners.

Currently, WCIC is encouraging listeners to bless restaurant servers with a larger than customary tip through a promotion called Been Tipped Over. The station has received dozens of stories from servers about how a tip answered prayer during hard times.

Source: AG News

Religious Freedom Revoked in Russia

See the latest updates on this crisis at AGWM.com or at the AG World Missions Facebook page. 

Late on the afternoon of July 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law legislation against terrorism and extremism. An amendment in this law prohibits freedom of religion in a way that is considered the most restrictive measure in post-Soviet history.

The law, which passed the upper and lower houses of Russia’s Parliament on June 24, could go into effect as early as July 20. 

Under the law, all personal evangelism on the streets and in individual homes is now restricted. Evangelizing outside registered churches will result in fines. Christians meeting in homes are not allowed to invite unbelievers. 

Christians wishing to share their faith must secure government permits through registered religious organizations. Even with such permits, they are not allowed to witness anywhere besides registered churches or religious sites. Churches that rent rather than owning their facilities will be forcibly disbanded.

Besides rendering evangelism illegal, the law will also punish not reporting violations. Russian believers and missionaries will be under constant scrutiny of officials and even neighbors.

Individuals found guilty of violating the new law will be fined up to $800 USD, while organizations found in violation will be fined up to $15,500. Foreigners found in violation will be deported. All aspects of the law also apply to internet activities.

This decision will severely restrict missionary work and the ministry of local churches in Russia.

AG General Superintendent George O. Wood has assured Russian believers of global AG support. “God will grant you faith and strength. We are standing with you.”

“Regardless of potential challenges in Russia, or any other nation,” AGWM Executive Director Greg Mundis says, “we will keep relying on the Holy Spirit to accomplish Christ’s mission.”

The Russian church has been in constant prayer and fasting as the situation has developed. “Pray that God will save us and give us wisdom to do His will,” a Russian Pentecostal leader states. “We will preach the gospel.” 

Source: AG News

Statement on Dallas Tragedy

EDITOR’S NOTE: This statement was received from Assemblies of God general superintendent, Dr. George O. Wood. 

I, along with Assemblies of God adherents throughout our nation, am feeling a profound sense of horror and heartbreak at the senseless targeting and killing of Dallas police officers by snipers. The incident which included 12 police officers being shot and at least five murdered, appears to be the worst law enforcement tragedy in at least 15 years.

The gospel of Christ is a gospel of reconciliation, not retaliation. In the Beatitudes, Jesus proclaimed that peacemakers will be blessed. Loving peace and making peace are not the same. Making peace requires action.

In his statement to media this morning, Dallas Police Chief David Brown said with emotion, “We don’t feel support most days. Let’s not make today most days.”

I would challenge Assemblies of God ministers and churches today to reach out to local law enforcement with a gesture of gratitude, support, and prayer. In light of this tragedy, may we also pray today for these needs:

  • Pray for the families of those slain in the line of duty
  • Pray for the healing and recovery of those injured in last night’s attacks
  • Pray for the safety and comfort of law enforcement officers throughout our nation
  • Pray for peace and healing throughout our nation 

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Source: AG News

Drug Story Impact

Nine out of 10 people with addiction issues started using before the age of 18, according to the National Center on Addiction and Drug Abuse.

Leaders at the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge hope to reduce that high rate through Know the Truth, a free prevention program offered in public and private schools that is helping to shape youth perceptions about the risks of substance use.

Now in its 10th year, the program was implemented in 160 schools and reached over 55,000 students in grades six through 12 last year. Teen Challenge International, U.S.A. is a ministry of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions.

Objectives include serving as a resource to schools by reinforcing health curriculum; influencing students by changing attitudes and behaviors and correcting misconceptions; and reaching the community through forums and partnerships with county sheriff’s departments.

“We like being able to give the schools and community the benefit of our knowledge and expertise,” says Mary L. Brown, vice president of marketing. “We educate students, teachers, parents, and community leaders on what’s happening in their own school districts in terms of drug use and attitudes.”

Brown says most students haven’t been educated about drugs beyond being told they are harmful and they should refuse to take them.

“That’s not preventing drug use,” Brown says. “We agree with those messages, but we want young people to have the benefit of hearing real-life stories and being able to ask questions of people who’ve said ‘yes’ to drugs, so they understand what could happen if they also say yes.”

Lead presenters, who are close in age to the students and have gone through the organization’s long-term recovery program, share their personal experiences about using drugs and alcohol and discuss common issues that led to their substance abuse, such as peer pressure, bullying, stress, and isolation.

They also help dispel the myth that gateway drugs, such as alcohol, tobacco, prescription pills, and — in some states — marijuana are safe because they are legal. Strategies also are recommended to combat peer pressure.

Brown says results from an anonymous survey given to students at the close of the program indicate a significant change in attitude toward drugs and alcohol.

Adam Pederson, Strategic Partnerships and Prevention director, says the program could have spared him much heartache.

Pederson grew up in a Christian home, but difficulty with depression, self-harm, and sexual identity issues as a result of bullying led to a three-year addiction to alcohol and painkillers. After being hospitalized, arrested for driving while intoxicated, and facing homelessness at the age of 24, he entered the long-term recovery program.

He’s has been clean for eight years and on staff at the organization for six years.

Pederson says the program also provides resources to those who may be dealing with issues such depression, abuse, and cutting.

Tracee Anderson, community engagement coordinator, is using her past to offer hope to students. She came to the organization three years ago after being in and out of jail, addicted to heroin, and four months’ pregnant.

She entered Life Renewal, a short-term licensed treatment program that is part of the organization’s comprehensive continuum of care that includes prevention, short-term and long-term recovery programs, and aftercare/transition services.

Anderson says the program restored hope and helped her overcome her biggest obstacle to getting clean – forgiving herself for the pain she caused her family.

Upon completion of the program, she gave birth to her son Jonah, now 3, and started volunteering with Know the Truth and other prevention events in the community.

“People need to have a reason to not do drugs or alcohol, not just from what a textbook says it does to their body,” Anderson says.

Word of the program is spreading and plans are in place to spread into other school districts.

Corporate partnerships are being formed, which could further expand it throughout Minnesota and to other states.

“We found something that really works,” Pederson says. “It’s not a teacher, it’s not a cop, it’s not someone standing up there preaching. We don’t tell students what to do; we tell them what we’ve done. We want them to think about the choices they have.”

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — July 7, 1945

Byron and Marjory Personeus, Assemblies of God missionaries to Alaska, developed a unique evangelistic tool at the close of World War II.

In 1945, funds from Speed the Light, together with money Byron had raised itinerating, made it possible for him to purchase the Fair-Tide II. This gasoline-powered cabin cruiser was an answer to prayer, as he longed for a mission boat to evangelize in Southeastern Alaska.

Byron Personeus was born in Juneau, Alaska, and grew up on the mission field as the son of pioneer AG missionaries Charles and Florence Personeus who first went to Alaska in 1917. After Byron finished Bible college in 1940, he worked with his father in Ketchikan and later helped him build the first Assembly of God church in Pelican.

After he was ordained in 1944, Byron presented the idea of Alaskan boat ministry to the Northwest District, and he was granted approval to itinerate among the churches to raise funds for this project. Because of gasoline rationing during the Second World War, he used a motorcycle as he traveled some 5,000 miles raising funds.

An article entitled “Gospel Boat for Alaska,” published July 7, 1945, in the Pentecostal Evangel, reports on the Fair-Tide II, which “will be used to carry the gospel to fishermen, cannery workers and villagers among the many islands sprawling along the southeastern coast of Alaska where the Full Gospel has never been preached.”=

The Fair-Tide II, built by the Stephens Boat Company of Stockton, California, in 1930, was commissioned in 1934. It was 43 feet long and could accommodate up to nine people. At the time of the article in the Evangel, the newly-acquired boat was on its way from Portland to Seattle, where it would be “recommissioned and dedicated to the service of the Lord.” While in Seattle, the boat was equipped with a public address system, and a few other necessary alterations were made before Byron and his new bride, Marjory, embarked for Alaska.

During the summer months, the Personeuses lived on the boat, taking the gospel to many isolated villagers and cannery workers. The Fair-Tide II was used regularly in gospel ministry until it was sold in 1949 because of needed repairs. After that, additional funds were raised so that other mission boats called the Anna Kamp and the Taku could be skippered by Byron Personeus as he and his wife continued to spread the gospel to the remote island areas of Southeastern Alaska.

Read “Gospel Boat for Alaska” on page 11 of the July 7, 1945, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “When Pentecost Came to the Moluccas,” by Mrs. R. M. Devin

• “Not Limiting the Holy One of Israel,” by Zelma Argue

• “Hints to Preachers,” by A. G. Ward

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

 

Photo caption: Byron and Marjory Personues on board the Fair-Tide II.

Source: AG News

Tenacity After Incredible Adversity

While attending Missouri State University in Springfield, Jeff Allaway ran a profitable side business selling cocaine. He noticed that when sober his sales increased, so he managed to quit drinking alcohol. Yet Allaway found relinquishing his cocaine snorting habit more difficult.

It didn’t help that Allaway regularly sponsored coke parties that served as springboards for drug sales, as well as the hedonistic lifestyle he had maintained since adolescence. When in 1987 Allaway accepted a friend’s invitation to accompany him to an Amway convention, the motivation was to meet good-looking women.

However, at a Sunday morning church service at the convention, Allaway went forward at an altar call and recited a prayer to accept Jesus as his Savior.

“At that moment my desire to do cocaine left,” Allaway says.

The following day, a police officer stopped Allaway as he drove a car with a burned-out taillight. He wound up behind bars because of an outstanding non-drug-related warrant for his arrest.

As he sat in a jail cell, Allaway says he sensed the Lord telling him he couldn’t be both a Christian and an illicit drug peddler. Allaway resolved to walk away from his lucrative enterprise.

Allaway went on to graduate from Master’s Commission in 1990, and then he went on staff at Phoenix First Assembly (now known as Dream Center Church.) For 17 years, Allaway supervised the church’s bus ministry, being mentored along the way by Assemblies of God Pastor Tommy Barnett.

Jeff T. Peterson, now senior pastor of Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, worked with Allaway at the Phoenix First Assembly in the early 1990s.

“Jeff proved very much up to the task in no time,” Peterson says. “He had a burning zeal for the Lord from day one.”

In 2007, Allaway says God prodded him to plant a church in a bar, with assistance from his wife, Ronda, and their only child, Jeff Jr. For four years, Big House Inc. met in bars, without ever paying rent.

For the past five years, Big House Inc. has met in a warehouse in Tempe, Arizona. The church draws an inordinate number of bikers, former inmates, and other societal outcasts.

“He reaches all segments of people who won’t go to a traditional church,” says Stephen L. Harris, Assemblies of God Arizona Ministry Network http://azag.org/ superintendent. “We celebrate that Jeff wants to reach that subset of society. ”

“Most of these people have been told they didn’t belong in church,” says Allaway, who himself sports tattoos on his arms, calves, chest, and back.

A blue tent stocked with refreshments outside the church’s main doors beckons visitors to Saturday night and Sunday morning services. Friendly greeters engage newcomers in conversation above the din of drum and guitar-laden classic rock music.

Peterson, who did field research of Big House Inc. last year as part of his studies at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, says while the approach may be unorthodox, the message is gospel-oriented.

“Pastor Jeff preaches passionately from God’s Word,” Peterson says. “There is no sense of moral or biblical compromise, and there is a clear altar call at the conclusion.”

Allaway’s ministry outlook includes making people feel welcome, building relationships through affinity groups, and holding big events such as food and clothing giveaways that serve neighborhood residents. By 2014, Allaway and his son, then 20, had grown to become ministry partners. The duo planned to plant churches together.

On Sept. 30, 2014, Jeff Jr. drove a General Motors Duramax diesel truck along Interstate 10 between Blythe and Indio, California, while his father slept in the front passenger seat. Jeff Jr. lost control of the pickup, which rolled several times. Jeff Jr. died in an ambulance helicopter that airlifted him en route to a hospital.

Both Jeff and Ronda struggled with grief in the aftermath, with Allaway taking a three-month sabbatical. In June 2015, after 22 years of marriage, Ronda and Jeff went their separate ways.

Although he still weeps in recounting the tragedy and its consequences, Allaway expresses gratitude for being able to enjoy a family for more than two decades.

“I would have missed out if God had not graciously spoken to me in that jail cell,” says Allaway, now 51.

Allaway says he has built vital friendships with men at church, and three who are bikers serve as his support group to help keep his faith strong. He says he continues pastoring, in part, because of Jeff Jr.

“It honors him that I carry on,” Allaway says. “It doesn’t if I drop out of the race.”

Harris is glad that Allaway continues to pastor.

“Jeff has a different slant on ministry,” Harris says. “I can glean from him how to reach all groups of people. He’s a tough guy. I admire his tenacity.”

Peterson concurs.

“The perseverance of this pastor in the face of such loss is a testimony to the grace of God,” Peterson says.

Source: AG News

Journey Not Always Easy, But Worth the Effort<br>

Pastor Loren and Linda Hicks believe in the effectiveness of the Acts 2 Journey to help strengthen churches. To them, it is more than a one-year journey; it’s an indefinite, life-building process to help the church adapt to change and remain relevant to the community outside their doors.

After Loren graduated with a master’s degree from Vanguard University (Costa Mesa, California), he and Linda pastored churches in Texas and Missouri. In 2005, they moved to Los Angeles to pastor Faith Tabernacle (AG), a church with a 92-year-old legacy.

“I was blessed to follow a great pastor, Mike Hinojosa, who did the hard work of transitioning the church and positioning it to move forward,” says Loren Hicks. “When I arrived, the church had around 90 attendees.”

Even with its rich history and diversity, Faith Tabernacle struggled to change with the growing needs of its home community, and the church leadership lacked unified vision. “Each time our church leadership met, it was clear we were not on the same page,” Loren says. “We had ministries, programs and administration, but no clear vision.

“When I was invited to participate in the Acts 2 Journey, I was desperate,” Hicks says. “I needed a process that would unify our church and help us find direction needed to move forward. The Acts 2 Journey gave our leadership a blueprint for change and an achievable plan of action!

Hicks says that when he attended the first Acts 2 Journey Discovery Weekend four years ago he started out thinking: There are so many things that need to change in our church. But that changed. “During the first meeting,” he recalls, “the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart, ‘Loren, you are focused on changing the church, but what I want to change is you.’”

The Journey was not always easy. As Hicks and his team worked on their vision, values, and strategic plan, it was painful at times. A few leaders stepped down from the team, and one couple left the church. In spite of that, Hicks says, “We knew God was leading us in the right direction and building a team that would take the church forward.”

During the next three years, Faith Tabernacle experienced growth as the congregation reached out to the community and became personally invested in sharing their testimonies with family and friends. Currently, 100 people serve monthly in the ministries of the church, annual giving has increased by 10 percent each year, and missions giving is higher than ever before.

In addition, last year, 46 people made a first-time commitment at Faith Tabernacle to follow Christ. The congregation has almost tripled in size during the past four years since they began the Acts 2 Journey.

Diversity is apparent in this congregation of 250 people who represent 30 different nationalities. The elders, deacons and staff represent six of those: Jamaican, Brazilian, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, Chinese and African-American.

“We have a conviction that the church should look like the neighborhood,” Hicks says.

The church is involved in community outreach through ministry to the local police department, a crisis pregnancy clinic, a homeless shelter and weekly food distribution through the church’s food pantry. They also provide backpack giveaways to local students and participate in weekly evangelism outreaches on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Students at the church have established Chi Alpha and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes ministries at the local college.

“The Acts 2 Journey has helped us be outward focused as a church and more aware that God wants to use us every day,” Hicks says.

Faith Tabernacle is preparing to start on their second Acts 2 Journey. “During the first Acts 2 process, we learned that society changes every three to four years, but churches change on an average of 30-40 years,” Hicks says. “It’s been four years, and we need a new plan. With several new leaders in place, I have been teaching our team the Acts 2 material and we are seeing the same excitement and unity as we did on the first Journey!”

More than 650 AG churches in 25 AG districts have participated in the Acts 2 Journey. Nearly half of those churches received AGTrust scholarships, made available through the support of AGTrust donors, to enable them to participate.

Pictured: Faith Tabernacle volunteers provide weekly food distribution to the community through the church’s food pantry

Source: AG News

A Chaplain — By God's Grace

U.S. Navy Chaplain Matt Riley is one likeable guy. He’s steady. He’s compassionate. He’s dependable. He’s committed to God, family, and the U.S. Navy personnel he serves on the USS Port Royal (CG 73) currently stationed out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Chaplain Riley is not only an admired role model and mentor to hundreds of naval personnel, he is exactly the opposite of who, what, and where he should be.

Riley should be running from the law, in prison, or long ago dead. Living with his grandparents because his mother suffered from schizophrenia and his father was denied custody of their three sons, he was introduced to drugs, sex, and gangs by his older brothers by age 11.

“My grandfather was a retired Air Force major who had zero patience for children,” Riley recalls, admitting beatings were common. The boys were ultimately sent to a mental health hospital for troubled children. Foster care would follow — four homes in two years — and life after that was nothing short of anarchy, as one brother joined the Crips and the other associated with the Latin Kings in Austin, Texas.

With his two “gang affiliated” brothers as role models, it wasn’t long before Riley followed in their lifestyle — drinking, drugs, and girls.

The boys would move back in with their grandmother after their grandfather passed away, who left behind a small fortune. It may have appeared that the boys were caring for their grandmother. But in fact, without her knowledge, Riley says “incredible acts of sin and debauchery were going on.”

Drugs and drug deals, prostitutes, gang members, guns, and heavy partying that led to “cocktails” of drugs and alcohol were a dangerous combination. Riley recalls diving behind a brick barrier as a car drove by his grandmother’s home and the passengers opened fire.

In 1998, when Riley was 16, both of his brothers were in prison. His brothers’ friends became Riley’s friends — many had serious criminal pasts . . . and futures.

“There were parties at my house every weekend and sometimes even during the week,” Riley recalls. “At my disposal were incredible resources of time, money, and people who were capable of committing evil. I was in over my head.”

But then something totally unexpected happened. Riley’s girlfriend at the time asked him to stop at a local church because she wanted to talk to a friend who attended youth group there. Riley would follow her inside and there be exposed to teens truly worshipping God. He also met Pastor Kenny (PK), an African-American, who prophesied over Riley, who is Caucasian.

“I remember he came up to me and said, ‘I don’t do this very often, but God told me to tell you that He has a plan for your life,’” Riley says. PK had Riley’s phone number and started connecting with him.

“One day, he made a cassette tape and gave it to me,” Riley says. “On it, he spoke Scriptures with my name added into the verse. He told me that he knew what kind of lifestyle I was living, but no matter what I was involved with, he wanted me to play the tape every night. There were many nights, I would lie down in my bed intoxicated and still listen to the tape.”

Riley still remembers many of those verses:  “Matthew, who dwells in the secret of the most high, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty . . . , Matthew will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in Him I will trust . . . , Surely He will deliver Matthew from the snare of the fowler.” 

At the time, Riley says he had no intentions of changing his lifestyle, but in looking back, he can see how God was at work — even though Satan was doing his best to negate PK’s positive influence.

“Friends I didn’t even know I had would come by and offer to pay for the next party,” Riley says.

Riley would hit rock bottom shortly afterwards. He recalls partying so hard one night that in the morning he couldn’t move. “I couldn’t get up,” he says. “It seemed like the hand of Satan was putting physical pressure against me. I was a prisoner. Sin had me and I felt as if I was on my way to hell.”

Yet God was at work. A “divine discontentment” settled upon Riley’s life. The idea of leaving Texas became an everyday thought, ultimately leading him to the U.S. Navy Recruiting Office. Riley, with no high school diploma, on probation, and having $2,000 worth of unpaid traffic tickets didn’t qualify. However, the recruiter recommended he try the government’s Gary Job Corps to get his life on track.

Riley would wait out his probation, voluntarily sit out his time in jail for the tickets that had turned to warrants, and pay off the rest of the fines. “I can remember those days in jail as they involved a lot of prayer and contemplation,” Riley says. “When I left the jail, I no longer had a desire for cigarettes. God was changing me on the inside.”

He would enter Gary Job Corps in August of 1999. The first Sunday there, he awoke with the desire to go to church to thank God for what He had done in his life. He went to church with his roommate, who attended a Pentecostal Church of God in Christ.

“Every sin I ever committed rose to my mind,” Riley says. “Shame, guilt, and the unholy activity flashed in my mind, wanting to be released. It was a similar pressure that sat on the middle of my chest like the time I lay bound on my bed.”

Riley’s answer? “I reacted by standing to my feet before the altar call was given, before the closing hymn, determined to get saved,” he says. “I didn’t know how it would proceed, all I did know was that I wanted forgiveness.”

Riley would stand there for 15 minutes and head for the altar the moment the invitation began. The pastor and every man in the church would pray for Riley, with the pastor’s son, Wayne Thompson, a minister, ultimately becoming his lifelong friend. Thompson would help Riley get involved in the church’s prayer services, where he experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Riley would complete his GED at Gary Job Corp and immediately enter the Navy. After basic training in Great Lakes, Illinois, he was assigned in May 2000 to the USS Detroit AOE 4 (fuel, cargo, and munitions supply ship) out of Earle, New Jersey. He soon had a reputation as a hard worker and was teased heavily by the crew for his “church boy” lifestyle.

Positioned just 12 miles from Manhattan, with a view of the city, Riley will never forget the day he and his shipmates stood and watched in amazement and horror as the twin towers of the World Trade Center burned and collapsed into a cloud of ash and debris after being struck by terrorist-controlled jetliners. They would later learn that their ship was the closest to Ground Zero of all naval vessels, and would be selected to join a battle group of American warships headed to the Middle East.

Due to his work ethic, Riley was selected to attend HM (hospital corpsman) “A” School, also located in Great Lakes. During that time, he met Navy Chaplain Carl Farmer, an endorsed Assemblies of God chaplain, whose words changed his life.

“My young mind was flooded with the possibility that I could one day be a chaplain,” Riley says, excitement still in his voice. “He dialogued with me as if I were a suitable candidate for ministry. It was a most amazing conversation. I left his office full of hope for the possibility of someday being a chaplain.”

Riley would complete HM “A” School and report to advanced training as a surgical technologist. Even though he admits starting to rely upon himself more than God, God patiently tethered Riley by providing spiritual leaders in his life.

Through a series of circumstances, Riley would end up being attached to a Marine unit in Iraq, where his medical skills, sadly, were often required — and where the calling on his life to be a minister was confirmed.

One night while in prayer during a midweek service in Iraq, Riley felt God calling him into the ministry. “I said, ‘Lord, if this is Your will for my life, I will go into the ministry.’”

Instantly, joy flooded the heart and soul of Riley. He now saw himself through God’s eyes as a minister. “I talked to people about God, I prayed for people . . . and the Sunday evening before I left Iraq, I preached my first sermon!” Riley says.

When Riley returned to the States, he had just six months left in the Navy. He ultimately decided to attend Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) in Springfield, Missouri, to become a chaplain, so he called the chaplain recruiter for that region and, as God would have it, Chaplain Carl Farmer answered the phone . . . .

In Springfield, Riley connected with AG pastor and former missionary Gerald Horne, and committed to weekly mentoring sessions with him at a local coffee shop. Horne, a military veteran himself, invested many hours guiding, correcting, and honing Riley. In fact, he and his wife, Alice, even played matchmaker with Riley and their church’s worship leader.

“Pastor [Horne] seemed intent on setting us up,” April Riley recalls. “Maybe it was my rebellious inner voice, but I had no desire to be set up with a guy. At all.”

But in this case, “Pastor knew best,” and in August of 2007, a little over a year after Matt and April had first been “introduced,” they were married.

“God used my love for Him and passion for my country and combined them into a beautiful journey of Chaplaincy,” explains April, who admits she “ate crow” several times as her initial relationship with Matt grew into love. “I just had to get out of His way.”

Over the course of four years in Springfield, Matt Riley received licensure  — his M.Div — ordination and ultimately endorsement as an active duty AG chaplain.

“While Matt and April were in Springfield preparing for military ministry, I watched both grow individually and as a couple,” says Chaplain Scott McChrystal, the military/veterans affairs endorser for AG Chaplaincy Ministries, a branch of AG U.S. Missions. “They love God and people — they both have awesome relationship skills.”

Riley’s first assignment was to the US Marine Corps School of Infantry (SOI) West, Camp Pendleton, California. Within nine months he became the only chaplain at SOI with a maximum student body of 2,500 Marines. Riley would grow an evening service from 75 to an average of 300 each service.

Following that tour, Riley served with the Seabees in Port Hueneme, California, and deployed twice with them to Okinawa where he was able to pastor in Camp Shields and visit detachment sites as far flung as Palawan, Philippines, to Atsugi, Japan.

Currently Riley is the command chaplain of guided missile cruiser USS Port Royal home ported in Pearl Harbor.

“It is no wonder to me that God is using them so powerfully in ministry to the warriors and families who comprise our Navy and Marine Corps,” McChrystal says. “I consider it a privilege to have them as part of our AG chaplaincy team.” 

Riley is not who, what, or where he should be. Not even close. Instead, Chaplain Matthew Riley, happily married and with three children, proudly serves his God, his country, and the men on board his ship all due to God’s amazing grace.

Source: AG News

Trusting God for the Smaller Things

When Melinda Booze learned she needed cancer surgery in October 2014, she didn’t worry too much about the diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment regimen.

With a high calendar year insurance deductible, getting the operation scheduled before the end of December loomed as her primary concern.

Although she has no history of breast cancer in her family, Booze scheduled a routine mammogram in 2014, the year she turned 50. When a biopsy in November showed she needed surgery, Booze initially sought to delay the operation until January, to ensure that medical bills wouldn’t overlap two years, thereby triggering a second high deductible.

Although the cancer was noninvasive, medical personnel advised her not to wait that long.

Booze had the surgery on Dec. 2, allowing her to complete most of her teaching duties for the semester at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. She is assistant communication professor and school newspaper adviser.

The surgery went well. But three days later, her physician explained that cancerous tissue had been left behind, necessitating a second operation. Again, concerned about the deductibles, Booze wanted to move as soon as possible. The second procedure, also successful, took place on Dec. 9.

Nevertheless, Booze still faced six to eight weeks of follow-up radiation treatments that would spill well into the new year. But Booze’s doctor, knowing her fiscal concerns, suggested a newer but swifter form of radiation called brachytherapy. The method enabled Booze to take the therapy twice a day for five consecutive days.

Booze completed her treatments on Dec. 23.

In the aftermath, Booze never felt the need to take pain medication. Yet emotionally Booze hit a low point on her next birthday, March 20, 2015.

As she sat in her office that morning, Booze questioned whether her work mattered. Then flowers arrived from a former student. Other former students and colleagues dropped off cards and gifts.

“I was overwhelmed with expressions of love, which is not the norm on my birthday,” says the soft-spoken Booze, who is single. “God reminded me that I mattered, and what I was doing impacted lives.”  

Booze discovered later that her sadness had a chemical cause: a severe vitamin D deficiency. The depressive episode reminded the normally independent-minded and self-sufficient Booze that she needed God’s people around her. Likewise, she says she now is better able to relate to students with physical challenges.

“God knows what will get our attention and what will enable us to be obedient to what He asks us to do,” Booze says. “I hope going through the experience has made me a weight-bearing block, and not a stumbling block. I want to help people who go through ordeals much worse than mine, to point them to God and say God is faithful and His purposes are good.”

Booze has been able to share her story with others. She is one of many Christians who has discovered telling others about the disease can lessen its stigma.

Tammy Bicket, a writer and editor, has been friends with Booze for 30 years, since their days as co-workers at the Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center. Booze learned to rely more on friends such as Bicket during her cancer treatment.

“Her strength, faith, and positive attitude from the moment of her diagnosis through her surgeries, radiation, recuperation, and her continuing checkups has never ceased to amaze and inspire me,” Bicket says of Booze. “She took some pretty scary, unpleasant, and difficult things in stride. She was the ideal patient and example of courage and faith in the Lord to everyone she encountered on her journey. I felt privileged to walk with her through something so significant.”

Meanwhile, Booze is enjoying life to the fullest, having returned from a two-week trip to Scotland June 7. She continues to have cancer checkups every six months — visits she is convinced God will provide the finances for, as He did with the brachytherapy.

Source: AG News