Protect the Poor, Don’t Profit from Their Need

Today in Kansas City, Missouri, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a new federal rule for “small-dollar lending” that will apply to payday loans, auto title loans, and payday installment loans. Without commenting on the specifics of that rule, I’d like to explain why I think the reform of payday lending is a moral imperative. A statistic, a story, and a Scripture will help me explain why.

First, the statistic: According to a May 2015 report by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, “Forty-seven percent of [American adults] say they either could not cover an emergency expense costing $400, or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money.” In other words, nearly half of American adults do not have $400 cash on hand for an emergency. These people are our family, friends, fellow churchgoers, work colleagues, and neighbors. They may even be us. They are in need.

Second, the story: The Kansas City Star recently reported on the heartbreaking story of Elliott Clark. When his wife Aquila fell and broke her ankle, he took out a payday loan to help cover the bills. When he couldn’t pay off the first one on time, he took out another, and then three more in quick succession. Each time, the high annual percentage rate of the loan compounded daily. It took Clark five years to pay off the loans. The grand total: $2,500 in principal, $50,000 in interest.

According to remarks CFPB Director Richard Corday made in Kansas City, taking out another loan to pay off a previous one is common in small-dollar lending. “Indeed, the very economics of the payday lending business model depend on a substantial percentage of borrowers being unable to repay the loan and borrowing again and again at high interest rates, incurring repeated fees as they go along. More than half of all payday loans are made to borrowers in loan sequences of ten loans or more. For borrowers who are paid weekly or bi-weekly, one-fifth of these loans are in sequences of 20 loans or more.”

The statistic tells us that many of our fellow Americans have needs. Elliott Clark’s story tells us that some of them are being taking advantage of in their need. And that brings me to my third point, Scripture. Consider this commandment:

“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (Exodus 23:25–27).

It is tempting to dismiss this commandment. Some might argue that Old Testament law doesn’t apply to New Testament Christians. Others might say that in a modern, credit-based economy, the prohibition of charging interest on loans doesn’t work. Still others might claim that the commandment applies only to financial relationships among Christians, not financial relationships with nonbelievers.

The temptation to dismiss this commandment should be resisted. The commandment is part of the moral law, which is obligatory for Christians. With adaptation, it can be applied in a modern, credit-based economy by, among other things, prohibiting excessive interest. As for the notion that the commandment only applies to how Christians treat one another, I’d simply point you to the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ:

“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:34–36).

What we see in both the Law of Moses and the Way of Jesus Christ is a moral principle that is both simple and universal: We should protect the poor, not profit from their need.

How should we do this? Regulatory and legislative reform is an essential element, but we do no one any favors when we focus on political solutions to the exclusion of other potential solutions. Alongside legal reform, we should consider other forms of action.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—of which the Assemblies of God is a founding member and on whose executive committee I sit—is a member of the Faith for Just Lending coalition. On the NAE’s website, you can read the coalition’s four principles of just lending:

  • Individuals should manage their resources responsibly and conduct their affairs ethically, saving for emergencies, and being willing to provide support to others in need.
  • Churches should teach and model responsible stewardship, offering help to neighbors in times of crisis.
  • Lenders should extend loans at reasonable interest rates based on ability to repay within the original loan period, taking into account the borrower’s income and expenses.
  • Government should prohibit usury and predatory or deceptive lending practices.

Notice that these principles require something of everyone—the individual borrower, the church, lending institutions, and government. Everyone has a responsibility to be a good steward of the financial resources God has given them. Everyone has a responsibility to protect the poor instead of profiting from their need.

As general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, I especially encourage you to strategize about how you individually and your church corporately can do this. Does your budget have margin to help family and friends with small-dollar emergency needs? Does your church have a benevolence fund to help members of the community? Are you teaching financial stewardship as part of your discipleship programming? Are you partnering with other organizations, such as Convoy of Hope, to meet the needs of the poor around you? My prayer and hope is that every Assemblies of God church and adherent will answer the questions above with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

In closing, I remind you of the words of Christ Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). May our Fellowship be so blessed!

 

George O. Wood is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (USA) and chair of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship

 

Image Credit: Vinceesq CC-BY-SA-3.0 

Source: AG News

Help on the Outside

Second of two parts.

Caring Christians are committed to helping the record number of American incarcerated women make a successful transition back into society once they are free.

Retired Assemblies of God Chaplain Pamela E. Moore is preparing to open a 10-bed transitional home for released women. The faith-based Sanctuary House Ministries in Camden, New Jersey, will provide a multifaceted 90-day re-entry program where women learn life and job skills as well as receive counseling. The 90-day training will feature a discipleship component.

“Housing is the number one need for women coming out of prison,” Moore says. “They have no place to go, so they go right back.”

Gina Hanna, founder of the ministry Beauty for Ashes in Platte City, Missouri, says mature Christian women volunteers can teach incarcerated or recently released woman about self-worth and erecting healthy boundaries in relationships with men.

“So many of these women have never had a stable, Christ-centered marriage modeled to them,” Hanna says.

Breaking the cycle of poverty can be difficult. A mother released from prison usually wants to regain custody of her children immediately, but Hanna says financial stability should be the most pressing goal. Yet never having worked outside the home, and with no husband or job skills, finding a good-paying occupation isn’t easy.

“It’s harder for women to make it on their own,” Hanna says. “Unless they get a support system around them, they may end up using drugs, losing their kids, and going back to prison.”

Manuel A. Cordero, senior director of AG Chaplaincy Ministries, notes that while women generally try to maintain family ties while incarcerated, that isn’t necessarily the case with men. Once released, a woman often discovers a former partner no longer is in the picture.

“When the rate of incarceration goes up, it follows that the rate of release goes up, too,” Cordero says. “Programs on the inside are wonderful and needed, but what happens when these women get out? Is the Church willing to step up and offer solutions to these women and their children, who are innocent victims?”

A study co-sponsored by the Assemblies of God and released May 24 shows prison ministry isn’t a priority for most churches. Few pastors have contact with those who have been released from prison, and two-thirds cite a lack of training or volunteers as barriers to their churches helping inmates and their families.

The study showed that among six Christian faith traditions, Pentecostals are the most likely to have a formal ministry to people leaving correctional institutions, support homes that help with re-entry after incarceration, and provide counseling for those who have been behind bars.

Hanna advocates that churches should be the key component of the needed support system. She notes that many congregations already offer financial courses, parenting classes, single mom mentoring, job training, and addiction recovery groups for regular attendees. With a little tweaking, she says such instruction can be adapted for those coming out of prison.

“There are needs for employment readiness, job skills training, substance abuse treatment, and parenting classes,” Hanna says. “The Church can step in and have a great impact upon re-entry.”

Moore, who has clinical and pastoral training, says explaining the available healing power of Christ is integral for women to truly change.

“Many really haven’t dealt with their past,” Moore says. “They didn’t have good parents, they may have had multiple children with multiple partners, and there’s usually no man in the picture to help.”

Moore says women sometimes have trouble adjusting to a more independent lifestyle because of the mandated routines they grew accustomed to in confinement.

“We want to see a transformation take place inside of them that gives rise to new behaviors,” Moore says. “They feel an abusive relationship is the norm.”

Moore encourages Christians, through their churches, to form friendships with incarcerated women so that they will be comfortable inside a sanctuary once released from inside penitentiary walls.

“When we help people we like to make sure they are worthy of our help,” Moore says. “But this group doesn’t fit that criterion.”

Among other things, church members can offer lower cost housing, free or reduced child care, and employment opportunities to women trying to get back on their feet.

Ordained Assemblies of God U.S. Missions chaplain and minister Susan Neumann hopes to open a transition in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. Neumann is a “community chaplain” whose duties include counseling females newly freed from prison.

Neumann, who attends Poplar Creek, an Assemblies of God church in New Berlin, Wisconsin, notes that more than 90 percent of those incarcerated someday return to their home communities. She suggests congregations can act as a liaison to ministries such as Teen Challenge that help women in need.

“The Church has to get over the fear and stigma of working with women who have been in jail and prison,” says Neumann, one of several AG chaplains involved in such rehabilitation efforts. “We need to get to know them as human beings, with their faults and failures and frailties.”

Pictured: Gina Hanna (second from left) regularly visits women in prison as part of her ministry, Beauty for Ashes.

Source: AG News

All the Gospel into All the World

Last week, thousands gathered at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh. They came to celebrate the realization of a God-given dream. Lead pastor Jeff Leake was driven by a passion to bring the gospel to some of the most “unchurched” areas of the U.S. He made an audacious goal of planting 100 churches. The 100th church will become a reality later this year.


“The goal for us is never just church planting,” Leake explains. “It is reaching people with the gospel who need to be reached. It’s about planting life-giving churches in the cities of the northeastern USA which is one of the most de-churched parts of our nation.”


Leake’s passion to urgently spread the gospel is a common passion in the Assemblies of God. The moniker “All the Gospel to All the World” has long characterized the evangelical, Pentecostal mission of the Fellowship. This mission, it appears, has not lost traction in the midst of a cultural upheaval.


Statistics released this week by the Assemblies of God show the Pentecostal Movement continuing on a countercultural trendline of continuous growth in U.S. adherents since 1989. The new 2015 stats show growth in the AG (1.4 percent) at a higher rate than the general population growth (0.7 percent). Since 1989, the U.S. population has grown by 23.3 percent. In the same 26-year time span, the growth represented by the U.S. Assemblies of God outpaced the population growth at 33 percent.


Internationally, new statistics show that the Assemblies of God throughout the world now accounts for 67,992,330 adherents in more than 365,000 churches. That’s a staggering 72.7 percent growth in worldwide adherents since 1989, making the movement the world’s fourth largest Christian group.


Efforts like Leake’s vision to plant 100 churches have been fully embraced by the Movement. Many of the 100 churches were funded in part with matching fund grants made available by donations to Assemblies of God’s AG Trust.


The growth in the Assemblies of God is not confined to new churches, however.


Leaders like Oliver Lora Ovalles are seeing this growth reflected in their own communities. Ovalles began pastoring Eternal Rock Assembly of God in Detroit in 2013. A church and city in decline, they had gone through a loss of vision and the congregation wasn’t growing. After connecting with the AG’s Acts 2 Journey, Ovalles realigned his church to the Great Commission.


“We needed strengthening in our structure and how we conducted worship,” Ovalles recalled. Eternal Rock soon doubled in weekly attendance.


The trends of growth in the U.S. Assemblies of God have challenged many cultural assumptions. In an increasingly polarized culture, the AG has become one of the nation’s most racially diverse faith groups. Now, 42.8 percent of AG adherents are non-white, ethnic minority. More than half (53.8 percent) of the AG’s U.S. adherents are under the age of 35.


While the statistics may seem encouraging, George O. Wood, AG general superintendent, urges believers to not remain complacent. “Our mission never has been and can never be by might nor power, but by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The vast lostness of humanity — not favorable statistics — should compel us forward with greater fervor.”



Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — June 3, 1944

What can Pentecostals learn from John Wesley (1703-91), the founder of Methodism?

Wesley, an Anglican priest in England, helped to lay the foundation for large segments of the evangelical and Pentecostal movements. Despite living in a nation that identified as Christian, he recognized that most people did not have saving faith. He pioneered new evangelism and discipleship methods, which upset some of the religious leaders of his day. He appointed itinerant, unordained evangelists who traveled and preached the gospel. He also encouraged the formation of small groups of Christians for the purpose of discipleship, accountability, and Bible study.

Wesley encouraged each person to experience God’s love. However, he insisted that if a person was truly saved, an experience with God must yield a transformed life. True Christians, he taught, would live holy lives. When the Holy Spirit transformed a person’s desires, this inner holiness would naturally be manifested in outward holiness.

In many ways, early Pentecostals identified themselves in the tradition of Wesley. The June 6, 1944, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel published an article that shared the “secret” of “Wesley’s power.” Three reasons existed, according to the article, which caused Wesley’s ministry to be so powerful.

First, Wesley believed that the Bible was “the very Word of God.” The Bible was the standard for everything, and he prayerfully consulted it for guidance.

Second, Wesley “preached with a living sense of divine authority.” He believed his sermons were given “by direct communication of the Spirit,” based on the Bible, and “applied logically, earnestly, passionately to the hearts of men.”

Third, Wesley “lived and preached in the presence and power of the Holy Ghost.” His deep spirituality was formed by living daily in the presence of God and by developing daily habits of “prayer and song, fellowship and meditation, study and preaching.”

Wesley taught that changed hearts should ultimately change society. He and his followers (known as Methodists) became leaders in social issues of his day, including the abolition of slavery and prison reform.

In the present era of social and family disintegration, Wesley’s admonitions point Christians back toward holiness and deep spirituality. He understood that humanity’s woes flow from the human heart, and he encouraged people to change society one heart at a time.

Read the entire article by Samuel Chadwick, “Wesley’s Secret of Power,” on page 4 of the June 3, 1944, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “Direct Answers to Prayer,” by Frederick M. Bellsmith

* “Following Jesus,” by H. A. Baker

Click here to read this issue now.

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

Source: AG News

More Women Behind Bars

First of two parts.

More American women are incarcerated — and being released from correctional facilities — than ever before, providing an unprecedented opportunity for churchgoers to help break a pattern of repeated imprisonment.

Nationwide, more than one million adult women are locked up, on parole, or on probation.

Overall, women represent only 7.2 percent of the total prison population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, in the past three decades, the rate of women in prison has risen 8.6 percent, compared to 4.6 percent for men.

According to the London-based International Centre for Prison Studies, the U.S. has 206,000 female prisoners, more than double the number of runner-up China. 

In fact, a recent Prison Policy Initiative report revealed that 25 separate U.S. states have a higher incarceration rate than any other nation. While the U.S. has just 5 percent of the global female population, nearly 30 percent of the world’s locked-up women are in the U.S.

“Nationally, property crimes are the number-one reason women are going to prison,” says Liz Stanosheck, who worked in the Nebraska correctional system for 20 years before becoming Prison Fellowship area director in Beatrice, Nebraska. “The reasons may be the economy, insufficient education for job skills, mental health not being addressed due to lack of health insurance, trauma, prevalence of drug use, or a lack of alternatives to incarceration.”

Stricter drug laws show no leniency toward women. And these days, more women are hardened repeat offenders, convicted of felonies and not merely misdemeanors.

“The gender equality trends in society today have also come to the criminal justice system,” says Manuel A. Cordero, senior director of AG Chaplaincy Ministries. “In the past, a man would be convicted for a crime while a woman would not even be charged for the same crime. But not anymore.”

“What drives many women to crime in the first place is they will do anything to receive love from men,” says Gina Hanna, founder of the Platte City, Missouri-based ministry Beauty for Ashes. “So many are serving time because they took the rap in an effort to save their man from getting into trouble.”

Hanna, 41, spent four months incarcerated on a drug charge in 1998. Beauty for Ashes is designed to reduce recidivism by providing Bible-centered studies that prepare offenders for release. The voluntary 18-month program ministers to women who live in a separate pod at the Women’s Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.

UNIQUE NEEDS

Compared to incarcerated men, women who are locked up are more likely to have mental health issues, been a high school dropout, experienced sexual or physical abuse, never held a job, and been a substance abuser. Experts estimate that 85 percent of incarcerated women have a history of neglect, violence, or abuse in their lives.

Women also have difficulty maintaining family contact when imprisoned because women’s correctional facilities tend to be located in remote areas that financially strapped relatives have difficulty reaching. Thus, they lose contact with the children for whom they had been primary providers, if those kids haven’t already been placed in the foster care system. According to The Sentencing Project, 62 percent of imprisoned women are mothers of minor children.

Pamela E. Moore, a retired ordained Assemblies of God prison chaplain, believes it’s unrealistic to expect women to have the internal strength not to return to their accustomed lifestyle if no alternative is available.

“The most important thing they, and all of us, need is someone to love them and to believe in them,” says Moore, 68. “Most of these women have never had this in their lives. The communities they came from are toxic.”

Hanna agrees.

“Adult women who have experienced childhood victimization resort to drugs to cope with the pain of abuse, as well as other stressors in their lives such as adult intimate partner violence, sexual assault, or grief over the loss of custody of children,” Hanna says.

Assemblies of God U.S. Missions Chaplain Susan M. Neumann has been involved in prison ministry since 1991. For more than a decade, she worked with fellow AG chaplain Bridget Sheehan, who died last year.

“When women come out, it’s because they’ve finished their sentence,” says Neumann, 59. “But just doing the time doesn’t solve the problem.”

Single moms love their kids and regret not being able to care for them because of their detention, Neumann says. Yet that doesn’t translate into becoming a good parent.

“They don’t really have a clue how to live a normal life because they have never lived a normal life,” Neumann says.

Tomorrow: What Christians can do to try to break the cycle.

 

Image used in accordance with CC BY-NC 2.0 license. Photo credit: WIFU Public Radio, Flickr

Source: AG News

A Sign in the Ashes

Tragedy struck when an apartment building near Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, caught fire. Fortunately, no one died; however, the building was completely destroyed. One tenant, July, was a visiting Chinese scholar who had become friends with U.S. Assemblies of God Missions’ Linda Seiler, a Chi Alpha Campus Ministries missionary.

Seiler met July at their Chi Alpha International Thanksgiving Dinner and invited her to have coffee. July began asking questions about Jesus and eventually started attending the weekly Life Group. She did not have a religious background and had never read the Bible. Seiler gave her a Chinese New Testament as well as a parallel Chinese/English translation of the New Testament, provided by Light for the Lost.

A few months later, the fire would destroy July’s apartment building. Several days after the fire, July went back to the site to dig through the rubble to see if there was anything that could be salvaged.  For three hours, she dug.

Later that morning, she called Seiler, ecstatic, saying, ”Linda, it’s a sign! It’s a sign!” While she was digging through the rubble, she found only two items that were saved from the flames and smoke: the two Bibles Seiler had given to her.

Not only did the Bibles survive, but their pages were still immaculately white and readable! Paper spontaneously combusts at 451 degrees Fahrenheit — the fire in her apartment was so hot that it melted the aluminum siding of a building across the parking lot, which melts at 1220 degrees Fahrenheit.

God performed a miracle and used the Bibles to get July’s attention . . . and get her attention it did! She kept repeating, “It’s a sign… It’s a sign.”

Light for the Lost partners with AG missionaries and ministries around the world so people like July can see God’s supernatural power, experience the tangible love of Jesus, and find salvation in Him.

For more stories and information, visit the Light for the Lost website.

Source: AG News

Brothers of Valor

A laity-led organization whose key leaders include two men from Assemblies of God churches in Salem, Oregon, soon will expand its outreach beyond the 28 men being mentored.

Brothers of Valor (BOV) started two years ago, with key founders that included life insurance agent Sven Anderson, a member of Peoples Church, and Tim A. Davis, a former businessman who now serves as community pastor at Church on the Hill (COTH).

“We felt God was saying, ‘You have influence in your businesses, churches, and families, but that’s not enough,’” says Davis of his longtime friendships with Anderson and fellow BOV founders Buddy Puckett, a mortgage broker, and Glenn Colangelo, a financial adviser.

Their reflections on what God wanted them to do ultimately led to discussions with several other men. Finally, members of the ad hoc group decided they needed to focus their efforts on strengthening the spirituality of males.

“It occurred to me that men are the problem,” Anderson says. “They have a huge impact on society. When men are crummy, society gets dragged down.”

After several months of planning, Brothers of Valor launched with a series of quarterly luncheons at a hotel. Speakers addressed the theme of what it means to be a man of God. The kickoff event featured former Olympic bronze medalist Dave Allen Johnson.

The contacts fostered by the meetings led to Wednesday morning prayer-and-encouragement sessions at a coffee shop. In turn, those created a series of individual and small group mentoring relationships. Last summer, BOV also rented an amphitheater at a park for a night of worship and free food.

In addition to mentoring, the organization has formed initiatives to provide home repairs and construction help to needy families (eight so far this year) and non-profits, plus automotive maintenance for single mothers.

BOV leaders recently formed a partnership with Catholic Community Services to provide mentoring for 10 boys in the agency’s foster care system. Davis already has experience in this area. After school officials told COTH’s staff their biggest need was for people to mentor students, the church organized a program that won a community award normally given to teachers.

BOV also expects to finalize an agreement imminently for a media arts lab that will include a recording studio, graphics design lab, and other tools for teaching media production to teens.

“Music and media define our culture,” says Davis, the father of two musically inclined young adults. “We can be run over by our secular culture’s music and media, or do our own and do it well.”

Ironically, the success of its mentoring and other programs prompted leaders to postpone a spring luncheon to focus on the launch of these other projects.

“We expect 50 more mentors by the end of the year,” Davis says. “Mentoring is just another word for discipleship.”

Anderson says BOV is developing relationships with churches from numerous denominations as those in the organization strive to bring the body of Christ together for positive results.

“Our vision statement is: ‘Through Christ-inspired lives, families, women and children thrive,’” Anderson says. “We’re trying to get these guys engaged. Brothers of Valor has changed our lives, as much or more in the lives of those who started this than the people we’ve helped.”

Source: AG News

Church Given Charge of City Festival

For decades, Elton Days in Elton, Wisconsin, signaled the time for anyone who had ever called the former bustling logging town “home,” to return for an annual reunion. It is a time of family, friends, food, music, brats (aka bratwurst) and beer. But last year, Elton — now a community of just 125 — ran into a problem: they simply did not have enough volunteers to make the event happen and cancellation looked probable!

But who do people call on when they have a problem? The church. And the church responded!

Four Corners Assembly of God is located about two miles outside of Elton and four miles outside of White Lake (population 346). But despite the church’s location, the townspeople in Elton, White Lake, and surrounding area are very familiar with the church and its pastor, Marvin Kindle, 73, and his wife, Deb.

Marvin’s parents were long-time members of the church and community from decades ago, having moved away when Marvin was four. The family returned, following Marvin’s graduating high school and entering the military, and resumed their activity in the church. Just under 40 years later, the church contacted Marvin at his position at North Central University (AG) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and asked him to become their pastor. People in the church and area knew the Kindle name and the Kindles quickly integrated into the community. That was about 18 years ago.

“When they first came to us about Elton Days, there wasn’t much time to get things organized,” Marvin Kindle recalls. “We called the church together and asked to see how many would be willing to volunteer to help — more than 20 responded. So, we agreed to take over the event, even though we only had five weeks to put the whole thing together.”

But Kindle was clear with the town – alcohol would not be served and the event would be used to raise funds for BGMC (Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge). In most towns, BGMC might not be a very familiar term. But in White Lake and Elton, quite a few people are aware of its worthy missions purpose. And instead of country music bands, Kindle brought in a local “basement band” — a group of guys who jammed country songs in their basement, but regularly asked Kindle to join in and sing gospel songs that they would play along to by ear.

The event, which became known as Gospel Music Fest, was an overwhelming success. Community members and those returning for the reunion, expressed their appreciation for the church picking up the ball and pulling off a picnic day to remember.

“We had barbeque, brats, and beverages along with booths, gift-basket raffles, and plenty of gospel music,” Kindle says. “It was a great time and we had such a great response — I had many people wanting us to do it again next year.”

Kindle explains that being asked to take over and run something as significant to the community as Elton Days simply shows what kind of relationship the church has built within the communities of White Lake and Elton. “The church has a long history of caring for people and loving and playing music,” Kindle says. “When there’s a fifth Sunday in a month, we hold gospel sings that evening at the church — we have had as many as 32 different churches from around the area represented in attendance!”

Four Corners AG runs about 92 people a week, though Kindle says many more people in the area have no problem referring to Four Corners as their church home.

The church has undeniably become part of the fabric of their community. Trust, mutual respect, and appreciation have been built. Kindle says that there are people who don’t even attend Four Corners who put their coins in their plastic BGMC Buddy Barrel missions banks and send their filled barrels in with friends who do attend the church. And when people — or the community — have a problem, the church is where they turn.

Larry and Jan Mabry are the Four Corners BGMC coordinators. They agree that the church has a very strong drive for missions, especially BGMC. “We had a contest last year to raise $2,500 in one month for BGMC,” Larry says. “I’m a Chicago Bears fan in Green Bay Packers country, and everyone knows it. So I promised to wear a Packers jacket everywhere I went for two weeks if we made our goal.”

“And I promised to wear a Bears jacket,” adds Kindle, a die-hard Packers fan. But when the church made the goal in only two weeks, Kindle was ready. “I wore a note on the Bears’ jacket that said, ‘Ask me why I’m wearing this ugly jacket.’ People asked and I would pull out a Buddy Barrel and say, ‘let me tell you about BGMC.’”

“I love this story because it reinforces that church size and community size are not the chief ingredients of being able to do great things,” states David Boyd, national BGMC director. “I applaud Pastor Kindle and the Four Corners Assembly of God for dreaming big and seizing an opportunity to partner with an opportunity that God brought their way.”

Although Elton Days returns to its normal routine this year, Kindle says the church is already planning on putting on a separate Gospel Music Fest on different weekend (August 13) due to how well it was received last year. Proceeds will once again benefit BGMC.

“Missions is at the heart of all that we do,” says Jan Mabry. “Whether it’s reaching out to our community or raising money for missionaries through BGMC, helping to fulfill the Great Commission is our calling.”

Last year, Four Corners AG raised $15,500 for BGMC (and over $42,000 for all missions giving), which led all AG churches with average attendance between 51 and 100.

“Ever since I’ve been in ministry,” Kindle says, “I’ve lived by the belief that if we take care of God’s business, God will take care of us.”

Source: AG News

A Different Kind of Retirement

When Bill Moll considered retiring, he envisioned doing volunteer work at the church he attended, Abundant Life Assembly of God, in Cupertino, California. He also contemplated using his considerable work experience as a volunteer in a Christian organization.

He had been senior vice president of merchandising at Macy’s West, overseeing more than 250 locations in the Western U.S., as well as Hawaii and Guam. After that, Moll served as executive vice president for Stein Mart, a national clothing chain. He had worked hard, paid his dues, and looked forward to retiring early so he could do something more significant with his life.

When Moll turned 59 and retired in 2010, however, he didn’t anticipate that God would have other plans for him — plans to work in a slum.

Moll had been content volunteering at the church, when in 2013 Senior Pastor Greg Wendschlag asked him to co-lead an urban mission trip, working with San Francisco City Impact, located in one of the nation’s poorest urban districts, known as the Tenderloin. This one-square-mile, inner-city neighborhood is home to 44,000 people (including 7,000 homeless) and features San Francisco’s highest crime rate.

“That was the last thing in the world I wanted to do,” Moll says. Though his wife, Patty, had participated in street ministry, such a venture was way out of his comfort zone. But as he considered how much Patty had sacrificed to follow him in his career, Moll agreed to go.

“I wanted to do this for her,” he says. As the trip drew closer, however, he dreaded it. “I really didn’t want to go.”

When their group arrived at the ministry location, Moll hid out in the kitchen. That worked well the first day. But God prodded him to go into the neighborhood. So the next morning he went into a building, knocked on doors, handed out food, and prayed with people.

A knock on the second floor of an apartment building changed his life.

The man who answered was a former IBM software engineer who had become entangled with drugs and lost everything. As Moll talked with the man, he sensed God whispering, You are where you are because of Me.

Moll at that moment knew where he would spend his retirement: in this inner-city neighborhood, building relationships and ministering to society’s forgotten and misunderstood.

After that mission trip, he and Patty found themselves returning each week to the Tenderloin as part of City Impact’s Adopt a Building initiative. In September 2015, their work drew Christian Huang’s attention. Huang, the ministry’s executive director, got a copy of Moll’s résumé and requested a lunch meeting. At the meeting, Huang laid out the résumé and a map of the Tenderloin, which showed every building in the district.

“Could you use all the experience you gained in the corporate world to leverage it for the Kingdom?” Huang boldly asked Moll.

Then Huang posed a colossal follow-up question: “Can you commit to adopt every building in the Tenderloin before you die?” That’s 305 buildings.

Did God give you all this experience in the corporate world just so you can enjoy the latter part of your life skiing and biking?” Huang continued. “Or could it be because He was training you to use the best years of your life for the Kingdom?” Huang challenged Moll to pray about it.

Two days later, Moll responded with a resounding yes. He and Patty agreed to lead the Adopt a Building initiative and started two months later.

The Molls drive 45 minutes from their home in Woodside, California, one of the richest neighborhoods in the nation, to work in the Tenderloin, one of the poorest and roughest.

Twice a week the Molls gather and mobilize volunteers to go into their “adopted” buildings and build relationships. They greet the residents, help meet their needs, feed them, and pray for them.

“We give them a connection to people who care, and that can lead them to the Lord,” Moll says.

Moll loves his revised version of retirement.

“These people know us now,” he says. “We’re a Caucasian couple who don’t exactly ‘fit in.’ But we walk those streets and look people in the eyes — we can give them dignity.”

Although this isn’t how Moll initially pictured retirement, now he can’t envision being anywhere else.

“My life before was cutthroat, dog-eat-dog,” Moll recalls. “Now I don’t worry about power struggles and corporate politics. I just get to love people — right where they are.”

Source: AG News

Faithful Behind Bars

Optimistic and good-natured Floyd Bledsoe doesn’t sound like a man who spent nearly 16 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.

Yet Bledsoe, 39, credits Assemblies of God U.S. missionary Donald W. Starnes and participants in the Freedom Challenge program with encouraging him to stay strong in desperate environs.

Starnes has served as director of Freedom Challenge since 2005, when it became a full-scale drug and rehabilitation program behind prison walls in Hutchinson http://www.dc.state.ks.us/facilities/hcf, Kansas.

Although he didn’t have any criminogenic life-controlling issues himself, Bledsoe graduated as the first Freedom Challenge intern. In an effort to help others, he went through advanced leadership training and development and personal studies to obtain Teen Challenge certification.

One of the key components of Freedom Challenge is forgiveness, an attribute Bledsoe learned early in his incarceration.

“Forgiveness is most beneficial to the offended party,” Bledsoe says. “Forgiveness is setting the offended person free and restoring what’s been taken from him.”

Bledsoe stayed almost 16 years in Kansas institutions after being wrongfully convicted of the first-degree gunshot murder of 14-year-old Zetta Camille Arfmann, his sister-in-law. He had been sentenced to life in prison.

While incarcerated, his wife divorced him, his two young sons forgot him, and his parents grew estranged from him.

Bledsoe maintained his innocence — and his faith — over those trying years. In December 2015, based on recent suicide notes from the real killer — Bledsoe’s older brother, Tom — plus DNA tests, Floyd walked out of prison a free man. Thanks to the persistence of the Innocence Project, a Kansas court exonerated Floyd and dropped all charges, however the state offered no remuneration for the years he had been wrongly imprisoned.

“Freedom Challenge helped me grasp that God is in the devastation,” says Bledsoe, who in addition to repairing furnaces and air conditioners is a public speaker on forgiveness and judicial reform. Bledsoe is trying to convince Kansas legislature to implement a compensation law so that future prisoners who have been errantly imprisoned will be eligible for funds once liberated.

Freedom Challenge is similar to other Teen Challenge programs in that students are given daily time for group instruction, individual study, and prayer. However, to a greater degree than Teen Challenge centers on the outside, those most experienced in this program mentor the neophytes.

Bledsoe counseled, befriended, and held others accountable in the faith-based program. He found his time working with Freedom Challenge to be rewarding, yet strenuous.

“Sometimes you need to allow people dealing with extreme hurt or anger to vent so they can get to the root cause of the issue,” Bledsoe says.

RIGOROUS TRAINING

Although Freedom Challenge technically is open to any prisoner, the spiritual direction offered is based on the gospel. Inmates who voluntarily choose to be involved in the rigorous eight-month training understand what specific religious materials will be used to teach character and values.

Typically, participants are involved in Freedom Challenge five-plus hours every weekday, taking courses on subjects such as theology, family, and leadership. More than 200 men, some of them lifers, have completed the studies.

“Being able to make choices and set goals is a different experience for men in prison, where they are told when to wake up and what to eat every day,” says Starnes, 57. “If they go back into society, they will be better equipped at communicating and interacting.”

Starnes seeks enrollees interested in forming positive relationships.

“They have to be teachable,” Starnes says. “Humility is the attitude of learning.”

Prison officials didn’t require Freedom Challenge to compromise any of its teachings before approving the program.

Sam Cline, who is the warden at Hutchinson Correctional Facility where 1,860 inmates live, says Freedom Challenge students have a more positive demeanor and an increased willingness to converse than the typical prisoner. 

“They seem to have a certain amount of joy that’s reflected in their personality,” Cline says. “A lot of the men in prison are sullen and withdrawn, but these men seem to be able to cope better with the difficult realities of this place.”

Cline says Freedom Challenge staffers aren’t afraid to confront untoward behaviors.

“Don has a very obvious commitment to the men in the program and to making sure the program itself is one of extreme accountability,” Cline says.

Overall, Freedom Challenge has 85 volunteers engaged in some capacity, including 15 who regularly go inside the correctional center. For the past four years, a Freedom Challenge mentoring coordinator has worked at the Hutchinson facility as well as with parolees on the outside.

Starnes still makes a daily 90-mile round-trip drive from Wichita to oversee the program.

“Don treats everybody with the utmost respect, care, and compassion,” Bledsoe says. “The lengths he is willing to go to see people succeed amazes me.”

Starnes tries to connect those released from prison with Bible-believing churches. He also has business connections so that inmates can begin working a job even before being freed. Those who are accountable to their parole officer, employer, relatives, and churchgoers are most likely to conquer their past, he says.

“If they have a sense of purpose and motivation to pursue it, their chances of returning are minimal because there is something greater inspiring them than just surviving,” Starnes says. “They feel like they are making a difference for themselves, their families, and the kingdom of God. When that happens, they desire to avoid evil, and they won’t come back.”

Pictured: Don Starnes (left) remains good friends with Floyd Bledsoe.

Source: AG News