A Pioneer in Ministering to Inmate Families

Manford “Mannie” R. Craig sensed a calling to become a missionary at age 16. He figured that meant service in a foreign country, because that’s the only kind of missionary he heard about in the 1950s at Assemblies of God church services, prayer gatherings, and camp meetings.

In Springfield, Missouri, in the mid-1960s, Craig graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Central Bible College and a master’s degree in theology from Central Bible College Seminary. Craig began the customary route to missionary service at the time: serving for five years as a pastor. During that era, in addition to being blessed with six children in nine years, Craig and his wife, Jeannie, provided a temporary shelter home for children from troubled backgrounds.

At the age of 30, Craig in 1971 became the first AG U.S. Missions chaplain in the federal prison system.

Craig came to the U.S. penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1973. The following year, he became the supervising chaplain, and began training interns for the chaplaincy. In addition to these duties, Craig was appointed the federal north-central regional chaplain and served both positions from 1980-89. From 1990-97, Craig served as the full-time chaplain at the Leavenworth honor camp and administrator of the ever-enlarging Hallmark Cards project. Even though he officially retired in 1997, the Craigs still live in Leavenworth, and for decades they conducted Christmas Eve services at the camp.

Jeannie always ministered side by side with her husband, helping with Sunday morning services at the camp, conducting choirs, and teaching a children’s sermon.

Herbie Harris, now chaplain at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas, remembers being impacted by the Craigs.

“A lot of inmates don’t have good role models,” says Harris, who served four years as an inmate at Leavenworth and was Craig’s ministry clerk. “Mannie Craig was instrumental in shaping my thoughts and attitudes to one day become a chaplain.”

“Mannie Craig taught me how to develop a relationship with an inmate so the inmate could trust me as his pastor,” says U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries Senior Director Manuel A. Cordero. “He taught me how I could be the only friend an inmate might have in prison, without compromising myself.”

Craig had a compassionate quality of treating inmates as he would treat anyone else. He sensed their frustration being separated from their families.

“I don’t know the hell they have been through,” he says.

Before anyone else in rehabilitation circles thought of it, Craig devised ways to try to keep families close, even though prison walls separated them physically. For instance, he organized monthly marriage seminars in which wives were allowed to come to the camp.

“Wives and kids do time when the inmate does time,” Craig says.

In 1973, Craig went to Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Missouri, 25 miles southwest of Leavenworth, to ask for donations of greeting cards that prisoners could send to loved ones as a way of nurturing family relationships. Hallmark agreed to donate new cards —  not discontinued or damaged stock — for various occasions including Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day. The project kept growing through the generosity of Hallmark, spreading to 700 federal, state, county, and city institutions. Craig managed to oversee it for 24 years, in addition to his other duties. At its peak, prisoners mailed 7 million cards worth up to $60 million annually.

In 1981, the Bureau of Prisons hired Craig as a regional chaplain for nine states. His influence spread along with opportunities to mentor younger chaplains. In 1991, Craig further facilitated strengthening familial bonds of the incarcerated by developing a flower project at the Leavenworth camp. Inmates with sufficient funds could make arrangements with Teleflora to pay for delivery of flowers to wives.

During his career, Craig conducted various other outside-the-box ministries that illustrated the acceptance and respect that inmates had for him as chaplain. He took low-risk inmates on projects to build Habitat for Humanity houses. He helped defuse a riot by being a peacemaker between prison officials and inmates. Native Americans invited him to share in their sweat lodge ceremonies. Rabbis invited him to participate in Jewish religious observances.  He saw it as part of what the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22: “l have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

“I had a firm assurance that the only thing to change lives is the power of Christ,” Craig says. “The inmates trusted me with their lives. Sometimes it took years, but many inmates committed their lives to Jesus.”

The Craigs keep in touch with many former inmates and all are welcome to their residence for an annual “homecoming.”

At 76, Craig continues to serve as a field representative as needed for AG Chaplaincy Ministries.

Source: AG News

AG Kidmin Conference Coming in April 2018

“You could hear someone describe it, you could read a report about it, you could even watch a video of it, but there is nothing like being physically present in those powerful, sacred moments when God makes himself known!”

For Mark Entzminger, Children’s Ministries senior director, the annual AG Kidmin Conference is far more than children’s leaders coming together to learn about resources and methods; it’s about how God supernaturally enriches, empowers, connects, and directs those leaders while collectively joining together and seeking Him.

The AG Kidmin Conference, slated for April 11-13, in Springfield, Missouri, and hosted by Central Assembly of God, is one that Entzminger says he believes will even outdo last year’s power-packed conference.

“AGKidmin17 was pretty amazing, and if you were there, I’m sure you have some great memories and testimonies of what God did in you and your ministry,” he says. “But I expect that in these 2 ½ days of training in April, with our focus on spiritual growth and drawing closer to God, frankly, God will do something pretty amazing in the lives and ministries of each one who attends. And when He does, find me — I want to know about it!”

The AG Kidmin Conference is an investment designed specifically for kidmin, Girls Ministry, Royal Ranger, Junior Bible Quiz (JBQ), Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge (BGMC), Sunday School, and other children’s leaders in the local church. Last year, more than 1,000 kids’ pastors and children’s leaders attended the event in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and took part in dozens of workshops and special sessions hosted by premiere children’s leaders.

Viewing the AG Kidmin Conference as a time for like-minded leaders to come together and experience sacred moments in God’s presence, Entzminger especially encourages leaders who are dealing with fatigue, burn out, or struggling with purpose to make a special effort to attend. “I believe God can and will provide leaders with the right connections, perspectives, and insights that will not only rejuvenate leaders, but quite possibly change their lives and ministries forever!”

To learn more about AGKidmin18 or to take advantage of early registration pricing, see the AGKidmin18 Conference webpage.

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — October 14, 1962<br />

Robert Cummings (1892-1972) and his wife Mildred (1892-1981) originally were sent out by the United Presbyterian Church of North America as missionaries to India. Through a series of events, the couple received the baptism in the Holy Spirit while on the mission field and then became appointed missionaries with the Assemblies of God. They had a distinguished career as missionaries and Bible instructors. Fifty-five years ago, in the Oct. 14, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, Robert Cummings wrote an article, “What God Taught Me,” describing how he came to accept the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

 

The son of United Presbyterian missionaries, Cummings was born and raised in Punjab, India, and attended school there. At age 15, he attended a preparatory school in the U.S. and latter attained two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees. He was ordained in 1918 with the United Presbyterian Church and served a year as a chaplain in the U.S. Army.

 

Robert Cummings was appointed as a missionary with the United Presbyterian Church in 1920. While on the mission field, Robert and Mildred worked with various missionary agencies before becoming independent missionaries. Robert became principal of the Landour Language School in India where he rubbed shoulders with a number of Assemblies of God missionaries.

 

After reading the life of Charles Finney, Robert Cummings was struck by Finney’s description of his own spiritual experience, which felt like “waves and waves of liquid love.” Cummings began praying himself to be filled with the Holy Spirit. His wife was also seeking the Pentecostal blessing. During the Easter holidays of 1924, Mildred Cummings was wonderfully baptized in the Holy Spirit. Robert kept seeking and did not receive the Baptism until after he attended a prayer retreat in January 1925.

 

As he was walking along a canal bank in India and was praising God, he sensed God saying to him: “You really are not praising Me and praying for My glory because you are anxious for My glory, but because you want your Baptism.” Cummings realized this was true. He felt the Lord put a new prayer in his heart, “O God! Be Thou glorified at any cost to me.” Later that day he continued in prayer and praise, “O God! Be thou exalted and glorified in each of Thy children, in me. Let Thy name be vindicated and magnified at any cost to me.” This prayer brought on a time of weeping followed by an indescribable sense of the majesty and greatness of God. His heart then was filled with joy and even laughter as he felt a strong presence of God’s Spirit.

 

The next day as he continued praying, the Lord began to speak many things to him. Most of all, Cummings wanted to be yielded completely to God, including his tongue. He revealed, “As I yielded it to Him He spoke through me in a language which I did not know or understand.” He felt God’s power flowing through him in a life-changing way.

 

After being baptized in the Holy Spirit, Robert Cummings joined the Assemblies of God. During World War II, the Cummings family left India, and Robert was appointed director of missions at Central Bible Institute (now Evangel University). Receiving appointment with the Assemblies of God, he went back to India as a missionary in 1946. He served as field secretary for South Asia from 1946-1948. In this capacity, he and his wife traveled extensively throughout India and Ceylon, representing the Assemblies of God and continued in missionary work through 1961. After retiring from missionary work, he again served on the faculty of Central Bible Institute.

 

Looking back on his years of missionary service and the time he received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, Cummings declared, “I can testify that this experience back in India has meant to me new life, a new world, a new Saviour, a new Spirit.”

 

Read Robert Cummings’ testimony, “What God Taught Me,” on pages 4, 5, and 29 of the Oct. 14, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

 

Also featured in this issue:

 

• “A Day at Azusa Street” by Stanley M. Horton

 

• “God’s Thoroughbred” by Jack West

 

• “Revival on Guam”

 

And many more!

 

Click here to read this issue now.

 

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

Source: AG News

God’s Not Done with Me

Robin Sweetman Kettering met her husband, Jeff W. Kettering, at the University of Valley Forge, where they both felt a call to full-time ministry. After graduation, their future looked bright as they became pastors of Newville Assembly of God in Pennsylvania.

But in 1996, seven years into their ministry in the rural borough of 1,300 residents, life took a dramatic turn when Robin began experiencing vision problems and numbness in her feet. Initially, she blamed a new pair of sneakers for the discomfort. But the following year she received a diagnosis that changed her life forever: multiple sclerosis.

“At first, I would get discouraged,” confesses Robin, 57. “But I kept pressing on.”

Multiple sclerosis is an often unpredictable, disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and the body. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, vision problems, cognitive disturbances, and disabling fatigue.

Jeff cares for many of Robin’s needs. Others pitch in to help by driving Robin to doctor’s appointments and cooking meals.

“We use humor to diffuse the tenseness of the situation,” says Jeff, 59. “My wife prayed for a man with character, and she got a character.”

Two decades into the diagnosis, Robin is unable to use her legs. A sling lifts her in and out of bed each day, and she is losing the use of her right hand. Writing and using the computer becomes harder by the day.

“Being in a wheelchair has slowed me down,” she admits. “But I ask God for wisdom, and I’m learning how to overcome my limitations.”

Robin also draws sustenance from God’s Word. Two scriptures from the Gospel of John are especially meaningful. John 9:2-3 is the account of a man born blind from birth, a disability Jesus says occurred so the works of God could be displayed in him. John 11:4 contains a similar message in which Mary and Martha come to Jesus because their brother Lazarus is ill. Jesus explained that the sickness would result in the glory of God.

Robin says as she read these verses one day God reignited her confidence in His presence.

“OK, Lord,” she began to pray. “You be glorified in this.”

And so He is.                         

Jeff shares the story of a neighbor thanking him and his wife for their testimony example. While Robin’s life is a shining example of perseverance and the grace of God, she admits it’s tough.

As the disease progressed, Robin learned to adapt. When fatigue left her unable to pray with others at the end of the service each Sunday, she instead began to greet the 140 regular attendees in the foyer as they entered the building, asking how she could pray for them.

“Getting overwhelmed drives you to the Lord,” Jeff says.

Despite the progression of her disease, Robin knew God still wanted to use her.

“When I was raising my kids, I would pray, ‘Lord, I know you’ve called me to be not only a pastor’s wife, but also a minister. Not long ago, Robin says she heard God prompting her to seek ministerial ordination. That happened last year.

Although she preached and taught more before her health deteriorated, Robin still speaks to women’s groups, and ministers to members of the congregation.

Her life speaks loudly to those outside the church as well. When her neurologist announced retirement plans, Robin asked if she could pray for him. With her husband at her side, Robin prayed for the doctor, and tears began to roll down his cheeks. He quickly left the room.

One of the nurses, seeing the neurologist’s tears, approached Robin and asked, “Will you pray for me, too?”

Despite her increasing restrictions, Robin continues to persevere, using each interaction she has with others as an opportunity.

“My goal is to touch other people’s lives,” says Robin. “God isn’t done with me yet.”

Source: AG News

Understanding and Reaching Children with Autism for Christ

It’s a fact. Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) scare Sunday School teachers and leaders or frustrate them beyond the reaches of compassion. How does someone teach or even control children who inexplicably scream, rock, run away with their hands over their ears, repeat words or phrases over and over again, hide in a corner, refuse to make eye contact, fail to concentrate or even follow “simple” directions, violently flail their hands and arms, or act out in other ways that are often associated with a misbehaving or extremely poorly parented child?

The problem? People frequently fear what they do not know or understand or they simply jump to uninformed conclusions. Although there are children who throw tantrums or “act out” because they don’t get their own way, that’s often not the issue for a child with ASD — if they want their own way, it’s likely for a reason they can’t fully communicate.

 

UNDERSTANDING ASD

What is ASD? According to the Autism Society, it is a complex developmental disability that has a wide and varying range of severity and symptoms that affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It has no single known cause or cure, though early detection and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.

In talking with those who have children with mid-range ASD and those who work with them, what makes ASD possibly more challenging than most disabilities is its variability.

“It is said,” states Sarah Simmons, whose son Zechariah (10) has mid-range ASD, “that if you meet one child with ASD, you’ve met one child with ASD.” In other words, no two cases of ASD are exactly alike.

Sarah and her husband of 22 years, Lane, make their home in Springfield, Missouri, along with their daughter, Grace, who is a typical 8-year-old. They have used the only method available to help Zechariah in his journey through life — a trial-and-error approach. It has not been easy. The range of impact, the triggers that set Zechariah off, the communicating and calming methods to use, the preparation to help him face new challenges . . .  one might compare it to taking one thousand symptoms and methods, mixing them up, and blindly drawing out 100, then trying to figure out what sequence to put those 100 things in to. The problem is, as Zechariah matures and new experiences are encountered, triggers can be added and methods that once worked, can cease to have the same results, without warning.

“It’s kind of like parenting in the dark — we have no idea what issues we’ll be dealing with or when we’ll be dealing with them,” Sarah Simmons says. “Patience, a lot of patience, is required. You have to break things down to very basic steps to find the problem . . . when you can’t communicate basic ideas to someone, you’re limited in what you can do.”

Joe and Jennifer Butler, AG US missionaries with Intercultural Ministries and co-founders of Ability Tree, a program that ministers to children with ASD and their parents, agree. Sentences need to be “black and white” and direct, such as “Please sit down in this chair” rather than “Please sit down (vague) like the other children are (redirects attention to children).”

But many children with ASD also have extremely strong responses to seemingly simple things, such as louder music, flashing lights, or something as common as a group of people talking or even a sneeze. The problem? Experts believe its caused by the brain having a lack of filters to organize, ignore, or prioritize messages to the brain.

“Many of the things people who have autism do are designed to protect themselves from stimuli,” Simmons says. “They set up all kinds of mental boundaries.”

Most people can hear multiple sounds at once, but, for example, can focus in on the conversation they are having. A person with ASD might hear the conversation, a siren outside, the sounds of other conversations, and the sound of a door closing and their brain gives each sound the same level of importance, so instead of hearing the conversation, it’s a cacophony of sounds mixing in their brains demanding priority attention. It’s the reason many children with ASD cover their ears when entering stores — or children’s church.

Children with ASD experience incredible levels of frustration because of the overwhelming information their brains receive and the inability to fully communicate what they’re experiencing. Therefore, they create mental and sometimes physical boundaries.

Children diagnosed with ASD can have symptoms that range from mild (such as good communication, but struggles with concepts) to severe (rarely even makes a sound). It should be noted that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is not a part of ASD, but children with ASD can also have ADHD.

Patience can’t just be a virtue for parents and teachers of children with ASD, it has to be a lifestyle.

 

KEY STATISTICS

Autism spectrum disorder is a growing challenge in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the estimated prevalence of ASD in United States children increased by more than 120 percent from 2002 (1 in 150) to 2010 (1 in 68), with almost 1 in 54 boys being born with ASD.

Currently, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder, with the prevalence having increased 6 to 15 percent each year from 2002 to 2010. With this growing trend, the likelihood of ASD indirectly or directly touching a current — or future — church family becomes increasingly probable.

 

COMMUNICATING CHRIST

Some may simply point a finger at a church or an intimidated/frustrated Sunday School teacher and criticize the organization or individual for the lack of understanding or “preparedness” to minister to children with autism, but that appears to be a “knee jerk” reaction. ASD is similar to most any other disease or disability — unless it has impacted the life of a family member or close personal friend, most people know very little about it.

The Butlers are testaments to that. “Before having a child with multiple disabilities, I had no clue,” Joe admits, whose middle child, Micah, has ASD. “I knew people with disabilities, but I fell into that category that I wasn’t an expert, so I didn’t say or do anything. But when I became a parent of a child with disabilities, that all changed.”

However, reaching children for Christ who have mild ASD isn’t out of the question for most churches as it isn’t that much different than reaching a child without ASD. Communication with parents, remembering routine and repetition are very important, simplifying concepts, and being aware of times of potential sensory overload (when it might be best to allow a child with ASD to go into the hallway with a sponsor or peer buddies) are keys to success.

“Be very straightforward and have expectations for them, treating them like other children, with time outs being in order if necessary,” Butler says. “But if a child starts crying or is acting out, try to learn what was going on just before the behavior issue began — see what it was that set that child off and what could possibly be done to avoid that in the future.”

When working with children with mid-range ASD, the challenge is greater as these children have a limited vocabulary and often have a wider variety of “triggers.” This doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t know what they want to say or what’s bothering them, it’s just that their minds can’t figure out how to put it all together in order to communicate it in a way others can fully understand. To reach these children takes commitment and a God-given patience and love for children with disabilities.

When the Butler’s son, Micah, who’s now 16, comes home from school, Joe says that even for him and Jennifer, it can still be a bit like translating Morse code as Micah’s staccato descriptions and thoughts jump back and forth in singular fashion. Yet patience and persistence pay off.

One of the ways Zechariah responds to stress, Simmons says, is through scripting — repeating a word or phrase over and over dozens if not hundreds of times. She explains that they try to turn that response into something positive by scripting Scripture verses with him. “The Bible says God’s Word will not return void, so we’re believing that the Scripture verses he’s learning, which he may not fully understand, will be used by the Holy Spirit to direct his life toward God.”

“You could compare reaching a child with mid-range or more severe ASD for Christ to that of being a missionary being placed in a foreign culture, with little to no language training, and the people he or she is trying to reach having no concept of Christ,” Butler says. “But the one thing we must remember is the spiritual. God is sovereign. The Holy Spirit is at work in ways we may never see or understand.”

For children with severe ASD, where even making sounds is rare and communication seems hopeless, maybe even useless, the “reward” of seeing a response may be never take place this side of heaven or may be limited to a glimmer in the eye or an unexpected sound. Yet Butler says he fully believes that there will be children who had extreme ASD on Earth who will be thanking people one day in heaven for sharing Christ with them despite their disability.

Whatever the range of ASD a child may be coping with, the ingredients needed to communicate to him or her include: being concrete in examples, routines and repetition, avoiding verbal overload by being specific and direct, keeping the environment as calm as possible, and loving patience. It is important to note that a child with ASD may have multiple disabilities that also need to be considered in order to get to know and understand him or her.

However, what all Christians need to understand is that children with autism don’t have a free pass to heaven.

“God is sovereign and loving, and knows what they believe and understand,” Butler says. “Our job is to preach the gospel to all nations, to all people . . .  and for kids with ASD, we have to do that through our words and actions and also realize it’s a spiritual process; it’s not just by our might.”

Butler also offers a word of advice for parents who are seeking a church where their child with ASD will be welcomed.

“We can become so used to our child being treated special at school and having things done for him or her, that when we don’t receive the same special treatment at a church, we tend to bristle and get defensive,” he observes. “We need to remember that these are people who are just like you and me. Before we had a child with a disability, we didn’t know what to do or say or how to help either . . . instead, go into a church with a loving and respectful attitude, speak with the pastor — you might just realize that God wants to use you to change an environment and make a church more inclusive.”

The challenges for parents and church workers in reaching children with ASD are literally as multiple as the unique — and often evolving — challenges that each child with ASD has. But the process of introducing Christ begins with first understanding ASD, then actively working with and demonstrating care for children with ASD (and their parents), and finally prayerfully trusting in the Holy Spirit to use the expressed and demonstrated love to communicate the Word of God into hearts and minds of children with ASD in a way only He can do.

For more information about how to assist children with ASD to develop as individuals and in coming to know Christ as their personal Savior, see the Ability Tree website or Facebook page. To follow Sarah and Lane Simmons’ experiences with Zechariah, follow the Facebook page, An Austism Post.

Source: AG News

Lumber City Church Grows, Focuses on Multiplication<br />

Lumber City Church (LCC) in North Tonawanda, New York, was planted in 2012 with the help of Matching Funds provided by AGTrust members.

Today the church is thriving! Since its launch, at least 100 people have been baptized and the church is steadily extending its impact in the community.

LCC founding pastors Chad and Christina Rieselman recently stated that AGTrust, in partnership with Church Multiplication Network (CMN), not only provided $30,000 in Matching Funds to help open the church, but also helped the congregation implement creative ways to inspire multiplication and foster spiritual health in all areas of ministry.

“The provision of Matching Funds did more than help us plant Lumber City Church,” Chad says. “It allowed us to replicate a local model for multiplication that continues to plant other churches today.”

The Rieselmans led LCC to collaborate with other local churches and agencies to engage in sustained, meaningful compassion ministry and evangelism outreach. A significant low-income and single parent population in North Tonawanda has been a particular focus for LCC.

A few years ago, several local churches partnered with LCC to begin the Box of Hope program. Through the program, the school district identifies needs in students’ families. The churches mobilize to meet those needs to the best of their abilities. In 2016, more than $34,000 in groceries and gifts were distributed to scores of families.

Then, just a few months ago, LCC acquired a building to create The Hope Center. Offering a full court gymnasium, functioning school kitchen, and cafeteria/auditorium, these additional facilities offer more opportunities to reach out to the city in a variety of ways.

Chad and Christina frequently remind their congregation that their mission in North Tonawanda must also be turned outward to a global field. As a result, LCC, which is one of 467 churches planted since 2008 with help from the Matching Funds, has helped fund the planting of other churches in New York and overseas.

Source: AG News

New Leaders Consecrated

Three national Assemblies of God officials, half of the Fellowship’s Executive Leadership Team, are working in new positions following a consecration service Tuesday morning in Springfield, Missouri.

Doug E. Clay, 54, is the new general superintendent. Rick W. DuBose, 60, takes over as general treasurer. Malcolm P. Burleigh , 66, is now U.S. Missions executive director. The trio received formal commissioning charges at installation ceremonies.

Clay, a third-generation Pentecostal preacher, becomes the 13th general superintendent in the 103-year history of the U.S. Assemblies of God. George O. Wood retires at 76 after a decade in the post, the fourth lengthiest tenure for a general superintendent. Only Thomas F. Zimmerman (1959-85), Ernest S. Williams (1929-49), and Thomas E. Trask (1993-2007) served longer.

Wood read a commissioning statement to Clay, whose wife, Gail, joined him on the platform.

“You have been chosen to serve in a time of great opportunity and promise, but also a time of great need and challenge,” Wood said. “May you use the gifts and talents granted to you by God to lead this Fellowship in a spirit of unity and compassion.”

Trask, 81, prayed for Clay to be blessed with godly faith, a spirit of discernment, a tender heart, and courage to be strong in his convictions. Trask also exhorted Clay to keep the gifts of the Holy Spirit operative in the Assemblies of God. After Trask’s prayer, a congregant uttered a word in tongues and another interpreted the message, which affirmed God’s provision for Clay as general superintendent.

“I understand the need to steward this sacred Movement and this sacred assignment,” Clay said in brief remarks after the dedicatory prayer. He revealed he has been praying daily for God’s wisdom, discernment, and anointing since his August election.

Noting that the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation occurs this month, Clay said he wondered what a Pentecostal reformation might look like. If he could nail theses on the doors of Assemblies of God churches, Clay said the values would include:

  • The Holy Spirit is a person, not an it.
  • The Bible is absolute truth, not just a book full of pithy sayings.
  • Character matters, regardless of title.
  • Avoid getting sidetracked, and continue focusing on evangelism, church planting, and compassion ministries.

“We’re called to minister to a fractured world,” Clay said. “This fracture is a result of being alienated from God. Only Jesus can heal that fracture.”

Gospel Publishing House just released Clay’s biographical Ordered Steps: A Life Prepared to Lead. In the book, Clay indicates that biblical literacy, including a scriptural understanding of human sexuality, will be among his priorities.

Clay, a graduate of Central Bible College, had been general treasurer since 2008, when he succeeded James K. Bridges. Clay previously served as superintendent of the Ohio Ministry Network (2004-08), senior pastor of Calvary Church in Maumee, Ohio (1997-2004), national youth director (1995-97), and Ohio youth director (1989-95). Doug and Gail Deardorff Clay have been married since 1985. They have two daughters, Ashley B. Grant and Kaylee Frogley, plus five grandchildren.

Clay’s father, Art, died of a heart attack when Doug was only 9 years old. His mother, Audrey, now 87, raised him as a single mother while she served on staff of Bethany Assembly of God in Adrian, Michigan.

OTHER LEADERS INSTALLED

Leadership changeovers in the recent past typically have occurred during a chapel service at the Assemblies of God national office. This consecration service, opened to the public and with a broader constituency invited, took place at Central Assembly of God, adjacent to the AG national office.

The 45-minute gathering looked somewhat like a family get-together, with relatives, friends, and co-workers of the officials attending. A majority of executive presbyters and a smattering of district officials from around the nation also turned out, bringing the crowd to around 1,500 people.

Assistant General Superintendent L. Alton Garrison read the charge for both DuBose and Burleigh. Rita Stratton DuBose and Maria Burleigh joined their husbands on stage.

“As a new chapter begins, may you experience the fullness of God’s blessing in what God wants to accomplish through you as you are willing to submit yourself to Him and to be a servant,” Garrison said.

DuBose arrives as general treasurer — replacing Clay — at the national office after a decade as superintendent of the North Texas District.

Burleigh replaces the retiring Zollie L. Smith Jr., who held the U.S. Missions post for 10 years. Since 2009, Burleigh has been senior director of Intercultural Ministries, one of the seven departments of U.S. Missions.

Source: AG News

Remembering the Orphan

Allen L. Griffin is no stranger to the difficulties of the foster care system. Growing up in a home with 26 foster siblings, Griffin witnessed from a young age how the state shuffled children from household to household. To the state, the kids represented numbers in the welfare system. But to Griffin, they meant family.

“I never called them foster brothers,” he says. “I just called them brothers.”

But in 2012, one of Griffins former foster brothers, Addison Terrell, was murdered. Terrell had remained in contact with his foster family over the years and would visit regularly. Several months after his last visit, the Griffin family learned that Terrell had been shot in his apartment complex. No one had filed a police report.

“It was like this young man didn’t exist,” Griffin recounts. “And if we hadn’t said Addison was a part of our lives, there would have been no one to even acknowledge that he ever lived.”

Griffin has traveled as an ordained AG evangelist since 2001. He is a doctoral candidate of Southeastern University, the Assemblies of God school in Lakeland, Florida, where he received his master’s in leadership. Besides traveling to preach the gospel nationally and internationally, Griffin and his wife of 19 years, Hashmareen, have dedicated their lives to serving orphans and foster teens in their community of Ormond Beach. Only six months after Terrells death, they launched the Florida-based organization Excellerate, a 16-week program providing transferable life skills for orphans and teens in foster care. Their goal is to help students become successful and engaged community members before they age out of the foster system.

Through relational mentoring and group training, students learn about Excellerates five pillars: life skills, professionalism, financial responsibility, social skills, and spiritual growth. While the majority of state agencies advise about 10 hours of life-skills training for foster teens, Excellerate offers upwards of 90 hours.

Students learn about time management, leadership, problem solving, and study methods. They figure out how to write a résumé, give a presentation, and interview for a job. The program also utilizes Dave Ramseys Financial Peace University to equip students to steward their financial resources.

“Our classroom is a table and we sit together, we eat together, we learn together,” Griffin says in describing the classes. “It’s kind of like Thanksgiving.”

One of the greatest gifts students gain from Excellerate is the key to a donated vehicle. The car is intended to give graduates independence and the ability to drive themselves to school, work, and church.

With their new skills — and transportation — Excellerate graduates are equipped to start their adult lives. Many teens, once abused and neglected, have since gone on to attend college and launch professional careers. In addition, Griffin, 45, estimates that 25 percent of Excellerate graduates go into ministry.

One such student was Elijah Hudson, who started auditing Excellerate classes at 16 and stayed for two years. By the time Hudson entered the foster system, he had been abused physically, verbally, and sexually.

“I’ll never forget one of our classes I taught on forgiveness,” recalls Griffin. “Elijah wept over his table. And I heard him whispering, I forgive you. I forgive you.” That same day, Hudson accepted his call into ministry.

A few weeks later, Hudson joined other Excellerate members for a field trip to Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black school in Daytona Beach. He walked away with a full-ride scholarship.

Despite the pain of their experience in the foster system, many students like Hudson have found healing, faith, and the practical resources in Excellerate so that they thrive in early adulthood.

In the five years since the inception of the Excellerate program, the Griffins have seen over 100 orphaned teens enter the program, with 84 of them receiving automobiles so far. But the ultimate solution is not in professionalism training courses or free vehicles, Griffin believes.

“The Church is the answer,” Griffin says.

With over 400,000 students in foster care across the country, Griffins hope is for every church to advocate for children and teens in the foster care system and for church members to adopt and foster children in need. Ministries such as the AG’s COMPACT Family Services actively help local churches and congregants meet the needs of orphans in their communities.

“Allen Griffin is a trusted ministry friend and creative communicator of the gospel for those who need it most,” says Jay Mooney, executive director of COMPACT, which is based in Hot Springs, Arkansas. “Allen has a keen understanding of the aging foster youth need. Excellerate is tangibly creating better futures for Florida’s emancipating foster youth.”

Griffin would like to see satellite Excellerate campuses, and branches have started in Melbourne, Florida, and Green Bay, Wisconsin.

“We want to facilitate the growth of the age-out foster kids that have no hope, who literally have been forgotten like Addison Terrell,” Griffin says.

Source: AG News

More Seniors Cohabitating

Americans are experiencing more active and longer lives than ever before. Consequently, the number of older single adults also has increased, the result of the death of a spouse, increased divorce rates, and never marrying in the first place.

According to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, a record number of Americans — 18 million — are cohabiting, an increase of 29 percent since 2007.

Yet the group with the fastest hike in cohabitation isn’t millennials. It’s those aged 50 and over. The rate has risen 75 percent for that age group in the past decade, up to 4 million from 2.3 million, representing 23 percent of all those living together without being married. The majority — 55 percent — of senior citizens cohabiting have been divorced.

CULTURAL REALITIES

The evangelical church is one of the few institutions in American culture standing firm against cohabitation. A Barna Group study last year showed that two-thirds of Americans believe cohabitation is generally a good idea. A Gallup poll in September found that even 30 percent of Pentecostals believe sexual relations between unmarried men and women is “morally acceptable.”

That compares to 69 percent of the general public that sees nothing wrong with cohabitation. Prior to 1975, only 11 percent of couples lived together before marrying.

“It’s odd that it’s become so much more broadly acceptable to live outside of marriage,” says Scott M. Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver. “Mainstream views have become countercultural.”

Wes R. Bartel, director of Assemblies of God Senior Adult Ministries in Springfield, Missouri, says pragmatism is the overwhelming reason older couples choose to live together without benefit of clergy. Out of economic convenience, numerous couples decide to shack up. Some elderly people are wary of comingling assets because they want to leave assets to their biological offspring, not the relatives of a second spouse.

The lack of a commitment to marriage may be spurred by an apprehension of relinquishing financial benefits being paid by the pension or Social Security income of a deceased spouse. Bartel, 69, notes that for an individual aged 55-65, taxable income starts at $25,000, yet a married couple in the same age range must pay taxes beginning at $32,000.

“The Church needs to advocate for change and push for laws that make senior marriage more financially beneficial and pragmatically convenient,” says Bartel, who has been married to his wife, Diane, for 49 years.   

Contrary to popular opinion, cohabitation doesn’t mean freedom from financial fears. A 2014 report compiled by the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University found that the share of older cohabitants living in household poverty to be nearly five times higher compared to married couples.

Various studies also have shown that cohabitation isn’t as beneficial as marriage for multiple reasons. Cohabiting couples separate more frequently than married couples, reconcile less, experience infidelity at higher rates — regardless of age — have higher levels of depression and substance abuse, and are more prone to physical violence with their partner.

Even so, those who have spent decades attending church may be tempted to succumb to looser societal norms. Various motion pictures, television programs, and commercials all depict single seniors as satisfied while sexually promiscuous. Friends, neighbors, and relatives also may be advocating acceptance of the different lifestyle.

“If people don’t have values, they believe it’s easier than marriage,” says Stanley, author of The Power of Commitment. He points out that one party often is persuaded by the other to engage in conduct he or she really doesn’t think is moral.

“Beliefs tend to fluctuate with behavior,” says Stanley. “One wants to observe a line and the other one without moral boundaries wears that person down.”

MORAL GUIDELINES

The Bible doesn’t declare an age limit on maintaining moral standards. Although pregnancy isn’t a concern anymore, those in their senior years still are at risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

“Procreation isn’t a factor for seniors, but scriptural principles are for all generations, not just one generation,” says Judy Pompineau Wick, co-founder with her husband, Wes, of the ministry Young Enough to Serve. “Seemingly solid excuses for living together don’t hold up in light of Scriptures.”

She notes a plethora of biblical admonitions for singles — regardless of age — to stay pure. For example, in 1 Corinthians 7:2,9 the apostle Paul advises followers of God to marry instead of living immorally with passion. Hebrews 13:4 proclaims that marriage should be honored by all, and God will judge the sexually immoral.

“While there is not a Scripture saying ‘Thou shall not cohabit,’ there are definitely Scriptures pointing to marriage as God’s design,” says Wick, who has been married for 36 years. The Wicks, based in Scotts Valley, California, are U.S. missionaries with Missionary Church Planters & Developers.

Sexual desire isn’t necessarily the prime motivator, especially for much older folks, to cohabit.

“With longer life expectancy, many times it’s not for sexual reasons,” Bartel says. “People are tired of being lonely.”

Despite all the reasons against cohabitation, its popularity is likely to keep climbing.

“Churches must be prepared to defend the gospel and reach out to people who are making poor choices that can affect eternity,” says Wick, 65. “Grandma shacking up is not a good message to communicate to a younger generation wanting to establish a stable family.”

Stanley, who has been married to his wife, Nancy, for 35 years, agrees that older couples should hit the brakes on such an arrangement.

“How do people deal with the conflict between their faith and their behavior?” asks Stanley, 62. “Do they really want to send the message to their kids that marriage doesn’t matter?”

Source: AG News

Called to Lee’s Summit

Since launching in the fall of 2013, Summit Park Church in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, has grown to more than 1,300 attendees in four weekend services. Pastor Scott Obremski says the church plant came about through incremental steps of obedience.

Prior to starting Summit Park, Obremski served on staff for 12 years as a worship pastor at James River Church in Ozark, Missouri. Obremski says he heard God calling him to start a congregation while visiting a church plant in Florida during a family vacation. As the family drove home from Kansas City International Airport at the conclusion of the trip, Obremski asked his wife, Jen, what she thought about planting a church in the Kansas City, Missouri, area.

Kansas City kept coming up in conversation and prayer, seemingly at odd times.

“We began to see how God was really putting this whole thing together,” Obremski remembers.

John Lindell, James River Church lead pastor, suggested the Obremskis consider the southeast K.C. suburb of Lee’s Summit. JRC gave a significant investment to help support Summit Park’s takeoff. In addition, over 40 people who worshipped at JRC made commitments to relocate 135 miles to be a part of Summit Park Church. The church initially met in a community center before finding a permanent facility.

The same approach of one-step-at-a-time obedience that led the Obremskis to Lee’s Summit is evident in their leadership of Summit Park. The church is intentional about discipling new people. In 2016, more than 500 people accepted Christ as Savior at the church.

Jena Lawrence, who has attended since the beginning, hosts guests as part of the church’s hospitality team. In addition to interacting with newcomers, Lawrence says ministry involvement has helped her discover and embrace her gifts.

“Since we’ve been involved at Summit Park, I’m more confident in my purpose and who I’m created to be,” Lawrence says.

Josh and Jennifer Main, who have attended the church since moving to Lee’s Summit in 2013, wasted no time before becoming a part of the church’s production and kids’ ministry teams. “We felt comfortable responding to the invitation to get involved,” Josh says.

The Obremskis received an award for overall achievement from the Church Multiplication Network during General Council in August in Anaheim, California. At the same time, CMN Senior Director Chris Railey announced a goal to plant 10,000 AG churches in the U.S. in the next decade.

Summit Park is now exploring the possibility of opening multisite campuses in the surrounding suburbs.

Source: AG News