Chaplains Witnessing a Harvest in the Military

Jesus told his disciples that the fields are ripe for harvest. Chaplain Brian Shearer, an Assemblies of God endorsed military chaplain, has seen this firsthand.

 

Since he started preaching and ministering in April 2017 at Marine Combat Training (MCT) at Camp Devil Dog and Camp Geiger, located in the Camp Lejeune area in North Carolina, Shearer has seen “God increasingly moving there.” He says many have come to faith in Christ, received physical healing and baptized in the services.

 

“I have been praying with people for salvation and healing, but usually just a handful at a time since I started helping there in April,” Shearer says. “Recently, God is increasingly moving there. I’m not preaching on healing, but I preach the gospel always. I have been mentoring a junior chaplain. Chaplain John Knipp is a Southern Baptist with great faith, and he is all about getting Marines saved and baptized. He usually sees 10 to 20 baptized on any given Sunday for the graduating class. Bottom Line: the harvest is ripe and we have been harvesting!”

 

For example, in a recent two-week span in October 2017, 48 Marines accepted Christ as Savior, 12 received physical healing, and seven were baptized in the services.

 

Serving in the military is a lifelong passion for Shearer, who has been in the Armed Forces for 32 years. For 14 years, he was on active duty as a Navy chaplain. He has served in five Navy and five Marine commands.

 

“I started as an infantry Marine in 1982,” recalls Shearer, 54, who was a Marine rifleman in the Corps from 1982 to 1986. “At the time I was an alcoholic, atheist, thief, heading down a very bad path that led to death or jail. Hence, I started out my Infantry training at Camp Geiger after Paris Island, North Carolina, in 1982. So that is my big draw when preaching at MCT. I walked that path as a young Marine. I always work in my testimony.”

 

He has plenty of opportunity to share his testimony as Shearer ministers to about 400 to 750 Marines in three services on any given Sunday. Shearer and other chaplains also typically pray for 50 to 100 Marines each week.

 

“MCT is required for all Marines that are not infantry directly after boot camp — 29 days of continuous combat training,” explains Shearer, who is retiring in January. “They learn basic infantry skills and tactics. They do long road marches and sleep in the field. The training is quite tough and continuous so the chapel service becomes a great outlet/reprieve from training.

 

“They are still adapting to the Marine Corps life so many miss home and are not sure if they are going to make it through the training,” he adds. “Just like boot camp, the Marines are looking to get relief and reprieve away from instructors. They are in a great place to be open to receive from God.”

 

Private Brian Garrard, who is from Marietta, Georgia, appreciates the chaplains’ ministry.

 

“I am thankful for the ministry of the chaplains here,” he says. “God has used them to help me to grow freer and closer to Christ during my time here at MCT.”

 

Private Alicia Schmeichel, who is from Buffalo, New York, was healed during one of the services after Shearer prayed for her injured left ankle and right knee.

 

“God healed my ankle and knee, so I was able to finish my last two weeks of MCT with no pain or issues in my knee or ankle,” she says.

 

Knipp says the chaplains are seeing signs and wonders during the services.

 

“When Chaplain Shearer preaches, Marines consistently come forward to pray for salvation and healing,” he explains. “He offers great, clear invitations and the Marines respond. Then God shows up and does amazing work! Marines are moved and praying for Jesus, while others experience immediate, miraculous healing — usually through the laying on of hands. Chaplain Shearer has also been a priceless mentor, offering his experience as a longtime chaplain and radically saved follower of Christ to help me grow as a man and as a minister.”

 

Chaplain (COL) Scott McChrystal, USA (Ret), military representative and endorser for the Assemblies of God, has known Chaplain Shearer since the late 90s. He says of Chaplain Shearer, “Brian has been the consummate military chaplain — great military bearing, physically fit, energetic, and always passionate to tell his warriors about Jesus.”

 

Shearer adds: “My greatest satisfaction of being a chaplain is seeing people come to faith in Christ and see believers built up in their faith. I love watching God reveal His power and holiness among the Marines. Marines are asking for prayer for physical healing because they are seeing and hearing that other Marines are getting healed. I see God revealing His power, which gets the millennials’ attention. It confirms the truth of the simple gospel, and God’s power and ultimate reality.”

 

Assemblies of God Chaplaincy Ministries is a ministry of AG U.S. Missions.

Source: AG News

Called Back to School

Chris Bradley had been pastoring First Assembly of Hope in Arkansas, a church with 120 weekly attendees, for seven years when God began to stir his heart toward a far-reaching move.

Bradley received a phone call from a friend about disturbing changes coming down through the curriculum in the local school district. Hope, a community of 9,900, is the hometown of former President Bill Clinton and former Gov. Mike Huckabee. Bradley fervently prayed for the Lord’s direction.

“I felt like I had to do something,” Bradley says.

In a step of faith, Bradley returned to school, at the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope. He pursued a teaching degree, with the sole objective of being able to gain access to the local high school, a campus that historically didn’t allow visitors on campus sharing anything about their faith. 

Although he felt headed in the right direction, after a year into his teaching degree pursuit, Bradley thought he should go about it in a different way.

Bradley, 38, spent several months building a strategic relationship with the new school district superintendent. Bradley had the opportunity to be involved in several school projects, including giving away over 850 pairs of shoes to pupils throughout the district and teaching about character development to an elementary class.

Still, Bradley thought he should be doing more within Arkansas school districts.

“I wanted to help churches build these connections, but I still was not clear as to how the Lord wanted to order my steps,” Bradley says.

While attending a Speed the Light rally in Texarkana, Arkansas, District Youth Director Dane Hall announced a job opening due to the resignation of the existing Youth Alive missionary in the state. Hall asked attendees to pray that God would call someone specifically to the position.

“In that moment, I felt something spark inside of me,” Bradley says.

Youth Alive, a partner of U.S. Missions, is a collaborative effort between Assemblies of God National Youth Ministries, districts, and local churches. The ministry’s goal is to connect churches and local schools in order to reach students with the gospel.

Bradley couldn’t sleep that night, consumed with the notion being crazy.

“To leave a position as a senior pastor and return to youth ministry, especially at my age, is rarely heard of,” Bradley says. “But I couldn’t ignore what was stirring in my heart.”

Bradley’s wife, Tosha, offered support and encouragement for the move.

The following day, Bradley pursued a series of conversations with Hall, which subsequently led to discussions with Arkansas District Secretary and Missions Director Cecil Culbreth, as well as Youth Alive National Coordinator Kent Hulbert.

Hulbert, one of the original eight nationally appointed Youth Alive missionaries, says Bradley’s reservations resonated with him. Hulbert, 52, says he felt the same way before he began his national appointment nine years ago.

The four began to pray about Bradley’s possible transition and, after several months, Bradley became the U.S. missionary with Youth Alive in Arkansas 18 months ago.

“I was excited to see Chris move into this role because we need more senior pastors engaging the whole Church to make these connections with local schools,” Hulbert says. “This mission gripped Chris’ heart to a point of action beyond the pulpit.”

“I didn’t have a huge personal network, I didn’t know a lot of people, and I didn’t know how I was going to raise a budget,” Bradley admits. “But God has made a way.”

Bradley’s life has changed completely.

“I am in a different church every Sunday, I travel regularly, and I am always attending or planning rallies or other events,” he says.

Although the regular travel has been an adjustment for Bradley and his family, he says the best part of his job is connecting with youth pastors, principals, and other local school personnel about Christ.

“This connection is so important because schools are the largest and most convenient mission field,” Bradley says. The Bradleys have two children, Caleb, 12, and Kaitlyn, 9.

 

Source: AG News

Convoy of Hope Watts Outreach Makes Good on its Promises

When Convoy of Hope returned to the South Central Los Angeles community of Watts for an outreach on Saturday, Dec. 2, serving more than 8,400 guests, it was not only historic — as Watts was the location of the first ever Convoy of Hope outreach — it was nothing short of miraculous.

The outreach, which was held at Ted Watkins Memorial Park, had a multitude of challenges. When asked about it, Steve Pulis, the Signature Events director for Convoy of Hope, runs a hand through his hair, shakes his head, and says, “Humanly, it was impossible, but God . . . , that’s all there is to it. It was God who made it possible.”

Pulis explains that for nearly 15 years, major events were not permitted in the park due to the extreme likelihood of gang violence. In fact, the last time a major event was held at the park, gang killings took place at the event.

Watts is home to 13 known gangs including various affiliates of the Bloods, Crips, and Latino gangs, including the highly publicized MS-13 gang, whose motto is “Kill, rape, control.” In order for Convoy of Hope to even have a chance of seeing an outreach happen, a lot of people had to be convinced.

Pulis says that the initial planning for the Watts outreach began two years ago, meeting with local church leaders and ministers. Once they agreed to be a part, the challenge increased exponentially.

“We had to meet with the Watts Gang Task Force (WGTF),” Pulis says. “It’s a group of about 150 people made up of local leaders from the local law enforcement, schools, businesses, community organization, churches, and gangs. If they don’t approve the event, it’s not going to happen.”

Pulis says that local church leaders had to meet with the task force to present the outreach three separate times. What he quickly discovered was even the task force’s leadership was skeptical of the promises Convoy of Hope and church leaders were making. Too often organizations and people had made big promises to the WGTF, but failed to come close to keeping them.

Getting approval from the task force took time. In fact, the original date for the outreach was scheduled for September, but because the task force had not yet given its blessing to the outreach, it was pushed back.

“Without their approval, the police wouldn’t allow it,” Pulis says, “and even if they did, people wouldn’t attend due to the culture of the neighborhood and the fear of gangs.”

Finally the task force granted its approval, with rival gangs agreeing to a “Day of Peace” in order for the event to be held.

But skepticism ran high and across the board. Pulis says even up to a week before the outreach was held, the WGTF was checking with local Convoy team leaders like Jeff Anderson, to see if it was really going to happen.

But when Pulis arrived on Nov. 28 with Convoy of Hope trucks and began setting up 13 large tents on park grounds, doubt turned to amazement.

Twenty-four churches — half of them affiliated with the Assemblies of God — participated in the event. More than 300 volunteers served 8,420 guests of honor who received 10,000 bags of fresh groceries. In the connections tent, 1,200 individuals were prayed with, and nearly 3,174 pairs of new shoes were distributed to children. Community and veterans organizations along with job and career services assisted 5,000 people, while more than 1,200 learned about proper nutrition, 400 had Christmas portraits taken, and more than 700 women were served by the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

“We had 4,000 children enjoy the kids’ zone,” Pulis says. “The people were very warm, very friendly, and very thankful.” And according to both the LA County Parks and LA County Sheriff’s department, it was the largest event they’ve ever seen in the park.

Loren Hicks, pastor of Los Angeles Faith Tabernacle and a district executive presbyter, oversaw the outreach for the Assemblies of God and Southern California (SoCal) Network churches, which also partnered with the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, headed by Bishop Charles Blake.

“We actually do not have an AG church in Watts,” Hicks says. “But our goal going forward is to be able to plant a church in Watts. We saw thousands of people come through, and we were thinking, this is someone’s congregation! We were incredibly blessed to serve them.”

“It was exciting to be there and see over 8,400 guests being served,” states Rich Guerra, the SoCal Network superintendent. “Pastor Loren Hicks and the SoCal Network churches did a great job in preparing for the outreach. And we couldn’t have accomplished all that without the partnership of Convoy of Hope.”

The Watts Gang Task Force (WGTF) couldn’t have been more impressed. Expecting expired foods, empty promises, and half-hearted efforts, Convoy of Hope, churches, local organizations, and caring volunteers left the task force nothing short of amazed.

“I was speaking with the WGTF chairman, Pastor Mike Cummings,” Pulis says, “and he told me that the Watts Gang Task Force has given us an LTO — License to Operate — anytime, anywhere in Watts. That is huge!”

Hicks says there were several “God moments” that stood out to him, beginning with seeing churches working together and volunteers now energized to do even more. Another powerful experience was seeing 1,200 people in the connections tent where they received literature, Bibles, and prayer and more than two dozen choosing to accept Christ as their personal Savior. Then there were the children, some of rival gang members, all playing together and having fun without any cares.

But what Hicks may never forget were the thousands of children receiving new shoes. “While we were putting new shoes on their kids’ feet, grown men, with tears in their eyes, would come over, give you a hug, and say, ‘Thank you.’ It was humbling. Overwhelming.”

What the Watts community first eyed with suspicion, ended up with a Convoy of Hope truck in its Christmas parade and a level of trust and appreciation formed that no one had anticipated. A true God thing. 

Pulis and Hicks agree that they would like to see the event return to Watts next year, if at all possible. However, for now, they’re celebrating how God redeemed a park tainted with murders, established relationships on countless levels, and turned legitimate distrust and fear into acceptance and love for His glory.

IMAGE – Left to right: Watts Gang Task Force Chairman Pastor Michael Cummings; Steve Pulis, Convoy of Hope Signature Events Director; Pastor Cornell Ward, Executive Director Unityone Foundation Inc.; Joel Sutherland, National Volunteer.
Source: AG News

Going Places

Melissa J. Alfaro is the first in her family to graduate from high school. And to earn a bachelor’s degree. And master’s degree. And doctorate.

Alfaro, 35, also is the first in her family to become a member of the Assemblies of God Executive Presbytery. In August, voters at the biennial General Council in Anaheim, California, elected Alfaro from a field of four candidates as the designated under 40 minister to the Fellowship’s 21-member top policy-making body.

Such a trajectory appeared unlikely early in Alfaro’s life. Her Mexican-born father, Victor Arellano Sr., immigrated to the U.S. at 18 and worked two jobs to make ends meet. Her Texas-born Hispanic mother, Janie, quit school at 16 in order to work as a waitress and later in a factory to support her family. 

While Alfaro’s parents didn’t have much money, they did provide for spiritual blessings. Victor came under the tutelage of Daniel Rios at Getsemani Asamblea de Dios (now Primera Iglesia Hispana) in Graham, Texas, and joined the pastoral team (he now is pastor of Bethel Church, an English-speaking congregation in Jacksboro, Texas). Melissa went to Missionettes, the forerunner to National Girls Ministries.

TURNING POINT

Growing up in Graham, an overwhelmingly Anglo community, Melissa felt insecure because of her ethnicity and socio-economic status. She rarely spoke in class and made middling marks. But a seventh-grade history teacher noticed Melissa’s potential, and wrote a lengthy letter to her parents explaining they had a bright daughter who could change the world.

Initially, Melissa sensed frustration. Why would a teacher put fanciful ideas in the heads of her parents, who struggled to even pay the bills? But the teacher’s encouragement proved pivotal, and Melissa’s parents insisted she get a college education.

In high school, Melissa excelled at all her athletic, band, and academic ventures. She went to the Assemblies of God Youth Ministries Fine Arts Festival finals her junior and senior year, presenting short sermons.

Thanks to her brains, and multiple scholarships, Alfaro made it to college. At Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU), she met Jay Alfaro. They have been married 15 years.

Alfaro earned a Bachelor of Biblical Studies at SAGU. Her Master of English as well as her Doctor of Rhetoric and Composition both are from Texas Woman’s University  (TWU). The Holy Spirit notwithstanding, she says rhetoric courses helped her become a bold and practiced preacher and teacher.

“The message is powerful in itself,” Alfaro says of instructing from Scripture. “But many times it’s important to convey it in a powerful way so that hearts are receptive to it.”

Alfaro counts SAGU professors Danny and Amy Alexander among her mentors. The Alexanders cultivated a relationship with Alfaro, and attended her wedding, graduation, and even her doctoral defense five years ago.

“Melissa is an articulate, passionate, intelligent, highly motivated young woman,” says Danny Alexander, who likewise obtained his doctorate from TWU. “It does not surprise us at all the giftings God placed within her have come to the forefront.”

Amy Alexander says Alfaro is among the handful of most outstanding students she’s ever taught.

“Danny and I both thought she would become a minister,” Amy says. “She is exceptionally gifted and has prodigious energy.”

Alfaro has been administrative pastor of El Tabernaculo in Houston since 2010. Her husband is lead pastor of the urban Hispanic church. In 2015, El Tabernaculo started an English service, to go along with Spanish and bilingual services.

“We felt we were missing the second- and third-generation Hispanics by going all Spanish,” says Alfaro, who says she didn’t become “academically fluent” in Spanish until after college.

Alfaro also has been Texas Louisiana Hispanic District Girls Ministries director the past seven years.

“Our girls have such great potential to become great women of God — Esthers, Deborahs, Ruths,” Alfaro says. “But many need a spiritual voice to guide them on that journey, and maybe they can identify with my story. I want to give them a voice, and let them know they have a platform.”

In addition to her other duties, Alfaro joined the Christ Mission College board of directors in 2016. Alfaro, who also writes a blog, says she only adds new tasks if other areas of her life are healthy.

“Not every door is a God door, even if it’s a good door,” Alfaro says. “Even good things can end up being distractions if they are not aligned with God’s perfect purpose for that particular moment.”

GOD’S TIMING

Alfaro believes starting a four-year term in November as an EP is the right time.

“God doesn’t work on our time clock,” Alfaro says. “This is a birthing season in so many ways.”

The Alfaros have struggled with infertility issues during marriage, and Melissa had a miscarriage in 2013. She is pregnant, with her child due in April.

“I just want to enjoy the journey,” Alfaro says. “It doesn’t have to be what you asked for, but as long as you are where He wants you, you can find fulfillment, even in time of loss and grieving.”

As far as her EP role, Alfaro says she feels a bit like David being at the right place at the right time — when he brought meals to his brothers’ encampment as they listened to the taunts of Goliath.

“In no way do I think I’m called to revolutionize,” Alfaro says. “I will glean and learn some great leadership tools from these individuals I respect and admire.”

She is in no hurry, but at some point she would like to be a bridge to a younger generation.

Alfaro is the first female elected to the EP unrelated to gender, joining Beth Grant who has represented ordained female ministers since 2009.

Danny Alexander says greater accomplishments could be in store for Alfaro.

“I knew the Lord would have a wonderful destiny for her,” he says. “But the rest of the story has not been written yet.”

Source: AG News

California Wildfire: Dramatic Loss, Miraculous Protection

When the sheriff’s department arrived at the Ventura (California) Teen Challenge center just before midnight Monday night, the urgency in their voices left little doubt about the seriousness of the situation or the speed at which the wildfire was approaching the center.

The 60 students and staff members, basically with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, quickly loaded into the Teen Challenge vans and made it to safety at a regional emergency shelter. They were later relocated to the Bakersfield Teen Challenge center.

Early the next afternoon, burning embers driven by high winds ignited one of the main buildings of the center and some outbuildings and . . . that’s when what was destined to be a near total and disastrous loss took a miraculous turn.

Don Coley, the chief administrative officer of the nine Southern California Teen Challenge centers, confirms an extraordinary series of events that left him simultaneously grieving loss and experiencing God’s miraculous provision.

It began more than a year ago when SoCal Edison, the regional utility company, asked to lease land at the base of the Teen Challenge property (located on the hillsides above Ventura) to use as a staging and equipment storage area while they worked on a major construction project in the area.

Two months ago, the project finally began and the leased land was loaded with all kinds of equipment and materials.

Rosie Weir, the Ventura Teen Challenge director, has done what she could to protect the center from fire. Her husband, a former fire department captain, and countless volunteers regularly cleared away brush to maintain defensible positions around the center in case of fire. But in this case, with some wind gusts exceeding 50 mph, no structure was safe from wind-born embers.

Yet it was the lease relationship with Edison that proved to be an unexpected God send.

Coley explains that due to the incredible speed at which the fire was moving, firefighters weren’t able to focus on saving structures — their efforts were directed to life-threatening situations. If a structure caught fire, unless lives were at risk, there would be no fire department coming to the rescue.

“But an independent trio of firefighters had been hired to protect the Edison project equipment,” Coley says. “When that crew determined that their position was no longer in danger, one of the men decided to drive up the hill where, for the first time, he saw the Teen Challenge buildings.”

He discovered that one of three main buildings was on fire. The three buildings share a common roof, which offers a covered breezeway between them.

Coley and a colleague were minutes away from the center when they received a strange call from the Southern California Teen Challenge headquarters. They were connected by phone with the firefighter who told them that one of the buildings would be lost but, since he was a private contractor, he needed authorization to try to save the other two.

“We immediately texted our approval,” Coley says, “and when we arrived a few minutes later, the crew was already targeting their hoses on the fire and wetting down the adjacent structure.”

The firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the one structure and saved the other two buildings. In addition, a separate and newly remodeled kitchen and dining room was spared and four vehicles left behind by staff members when they drove the women to safety in Teen Challenge vans, were miraculously not burned.

While watching the building with offices and a women’s dormitory burn while the adjacent buildings remained untouched, Coley says he experienced both loss and a keen awareness of how blessed they were to have the three firefighters on scene just when they needed them.

“The Ventura Teen Challenge center is often called ‘Miracle Mountain’ due to how we were able to obtain this property and how God has used this place to miraculously change lives,” Coley says. “This week, it lived up to its name once again.”

However, for the women who lost all their personal belongings in the fire and for the hundreds if not thousands of individuals and families who have lost — or may still lose — their homes and belongings to the wildfires, Coley asked for continued prayers.

“There are so many who have lost everything, things that can’t be replaced, and we are praying for them,” he says quietly. “We also pray for the memories of our students — that our ladies will not look back on this as a fire that destroyed, but instead have memories of another miracle that occurred here on our mountain.”

Through both word of mouth and social media, believers across the country have rallied with prayers and support. Southern California Teen Challenge Executive Director Ron Brown, expressed his thanks and deep appreciation to all those who have responded so generously with their prayers and encouragement.

For more information about Ventura Teen Challenge and how to help, see its Facebook page. Adult and Teen Challenge is a ministry of AG U.S. Missions.

Source: AG News

Back to the Roots

Lakeview Church in Indianapolis, which began in 1918, is a multiethnic congregation among the 100 fastest-growing in the United States, with an average weekly attendance of 1,400.

Traveling minister Maria Woodworth-Etter, then in her 70s, founded Lakeview, with the goal of providing a national healing ministry and revival center centrally located in the crossroads of America.

Despite being criticized for welcoming African-Americans, Native Americans, and other sometimes-unwelcome minority populations at the time, Woodworth-Etter wanted the church to be a voice for minorities and the marginalized.

By the time Pastor Ronald J. Bontrager became lead pastor in 1994, Caucasians overwhelmingly dominated church attendees. He realized the congregational makeup needed to change to be more in line with the rapidly swelling diversity of the neighborhood at the time. It took around a decade for the church to really embrace the move, Bontrager says.

However, during the past 3 years, Bontrager reports that 70 percent of visitors have been comprised of ethnic minorities.

“At this point, we literally see the church changing by the week,” Bontrager says. “We want to be known as the church where anyone can come. We want to reach people of every tribe, every tongue, and every nation.”

That is more than mere rhetoric, with over 70 language groups represented in the local school system. Bontrager reports that Wayne Township, where Lakeview is located, is the most diverse of the nine townships that make up the city of Indianapolis.

“This really changes our missions awareness,” he says. “It takes us from simply writing a check to really engaging and reaching our own internationally diverse neighborhood.”

Executive Pastor Brian Cobb notes that an apartment complex next to the church houses over 1,000 Nigerian immigrants, many who are former Muslims and now attend Lakeview.

As racial tensions in the country rise, Lakeview Church steadily champions the mission of reconciliation by focusing on racial and ethnic unity within its body. Cobb reports that the church represents multiple socioeconomic statuses, layers of generations, and supports both men and women in leadership.

The Lakeview staff of millennials, women, and ethnic minorities reflects the church’s diverse makeup.

“We are still trying to figure out what this new and changing reality looks like,” says Bontrager. “Being one ethnicity can be more comfortable, but we want to learn how we all fit together and celebrate our differences through Christ’s love.”

As the church continues to grow, both in number and in diversity, Bontrager says there will be a strategic outreach to start a child-care program for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. Westside International Academy will offer a diverse curriculum, including teaching several different languages to enrollees.

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — December 8, 1957<br />

Mildred Whitney (1910-1994) almost single-handedly founded ministries for the blind in the Assemblies of God (AG). Her legacy is seen today in the AG Center for the Blind, under the leadership of Paul Weingartner.

 

Whitney’s life-long dream was to make Pentecostal literature available to the blind and visually impaired. The beginning of Whitney’s work goes back to a Sunday in October 1949 when she was praying in her morning devotions in East Jordan, Michigan, and felt God speaking to her to start up a braille ministry. That same Sunday she read an article in the Gospel Gleaners, the predecessor of the AG’s weekly Live magazine, which told about Gladys Carrington, a housewife, who had been transcribing Christian literature into braille. Whitney contacted Carrington who sent her a copy of the braille alphabet and other materials to get her started.

 

Whitney began learning the braille alphabet, and by 1951 she had mastered the art of writing braille and had started transcribing and producing Pentecostal literature for the blind in her home. The official start of her ministry to the blind began in 1952. On Nov. 16, the AG Center for the Blind, located in Springfield, Missouri, held an open house to celebrate 65 years of ministry.

 

In the beginning years, Mildred Whitney and her husband improvised to make their own type press, assembled their own drying racks, and used other equipment as needed. In 1954 she began using a braille typewriter to better carry out this vital ministry. This led to her taking select articles from the Pentecostal Evangel and other publications to produce the Pentecostal Digest in braille. Soon afterwards she began producing Sunday School quarterlies in braille.

 

Sixty years ago, in the Dec. 8, 1957, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, Elva Hoover wrote an article called “Quarterlies for the Blind.” She described how Whitney worked for a number of years using “makeshift equipment with limited funds” in her own home to provide braille literature for the blind. “Although she does most of the work herself,” said Hoover, “various members of her family are pressed into service from time to time.” Because of the time-consuming process in producing braille literature (one page of quarterly materials requires almost five pages of braille), Whitney printed the Sunday School lessons on a monthly basis rather than quarterly.

 

The AG Center for the Blind still produces the Adult Student Guide in braille and digital audio files for other age levels of Sunday School materials, as well as God’s Word for Today, Live, PrimeLine, and selected books.

 

Read “Quarterlies for the Blind,” on pages 24 and 25 of the Dec. 8, 1957, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

 

Also featured in this issue:

 

• “A Sure Formula for Revival,” by E. R. Foster

 

• “Under the Blood,” by Donald Gee

 

And many more!

 

Click here to read this issue now.

 

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

Source: AG News

Welcoming the Stranger

In 1998, war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo chased Rwemera Nyakagabo Fidel and his family from Katanga province into South Kivu. But in 2004, the war reached their adopted city, Uvira, pushing them into a United Nations camp of 11,000 refugees in neighboring Burundi.

Two years later, Fidel, an ordained Assemblies of God pastor, co-planted Bethlehem Assembly of God in that camp and served as its youth pastor. Like everyone else in the camp, congregants held onto ever-dwindling hope of being chosen by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to receive a rare coveted visa anywhere.

You have to wait your turn, says Fidel, 47. Everybody is waiting to leave Africa. Even a year can go by and nobody in the church is selected.

In the 11 years since Bethlehem AGs founding, only around 100 received visas. Its 900 congregants, including Fidel and his wife, Uwizeyimana Jeanne, 36, fasted and prayed.

Earlier this year Fidel, Jeanne, and their five children, ages 4 to 23, received word their prayers had been answered. In September, the family arrived in Amarillo, Texas, where Jeannes sister had settled. To fulfill a vow to God, her first Sunday in the Congolese Zoe Church, a parent-affiliated congregation of 140 that’s part of First Family Church (formerly First Assembly of God of Amarillo), Jeanne danced before the Lord in thanksgiving.

The church has committed to help the family, which has no vehicle. They speak no English. They will be assisted by AG U.S. missionary Steve Woodward, who also runs an English as a second language program to help those from other cultures. Woodward describes the Fidel family journey as typical of refugees to whom he ministers.

I visit their churches, I have them in English class, says Woodward, who is an AG Intercultural Ministries U.S. missionary. We don’t hear enough of their stories.

Since 2007, Amarillo has resettled 4,614 refugees, the highest number of any Texas city, due to its low cost of living and abundance of jobs for which English is non-essential.

Scott Temple, director of the AG Office of Ethnic Relations, is developing a 100-page manual to help districts be more receptive to minorities and immigrants. Temple is working with the West Texas District, which is formulating plans to better welcome the expanding immigrant population.

Temples ministry provides help beyond churches with congregants who have lived for generations in the United States. He received a request from Dallas-area Cameroonian refugees who wanted their church to be more ethnically diverse.

“They wanted to fulfill the Scripture as well and reach all nations,” Temple says. “It’s a growing vision.”

(Immigrants) bring a fresh look at what heaven is going to be like, says Glenn R. Beaver, West Texas AG superintendent. Beaver notes that in some areas, cultural barriers keep people from seeing immigrants as people who need Christ.

First Family Church ethnic congregations include the Kirundi-language Congolese and a Spanish-language group from several nations. Billy D. Nickell, First Familys pastor, connected five years ago with Congolese Christians through Woodward, who helped Zoe pastor Eliazard Mudakikwa and other Congolese ministers receive their AG U.S. credentials. The church moved from meeting in the First Family gym into the building that had been home to a now-defunct Anglo AG congregation.

While refugees need help from established churches, ranging from English lessons to assistance setting up their homes, Nickell notes that the key to any outreach to newcomer internationals is being Kingdom-minded and interested in evangelism.

“It must be initiated by the American church, Nickell says. The immigrant feels alone, in a totally different world. We have to open our arms, hearts, minds, and pocketbooks.

A great place to start is potlucks and joint worship services and youth gatherings. English classes are a huge need as well.

Theyre so appreciative of our friendships, Nickell says. They want to be part of our churches. They don’t want to just be stepchildren; they want to be embraced. So it takes a very deliberate, conscious effort on the part of the pastors, board, and congregation.

Rewards abound for incorporating new immigrants into a congregation. Nickell cites a refugee couple from Iran who fled Tehran after coming to Christ and ultimately resettled in Amarillo, where they connected with First Family Church. Today the couple are AG U.S. missionaries aiming to plant a Farsi-language church in Amarillo.

Congolese pastor Fidel compares his family’s journey as refugees to the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. He notes multiple difficulties in the refugee camp, and expresses his familys deep gratitude in finding a new home in Amarillo.

The church of refugees remains burdened for those still in the Burundi camp. Mudakikwa, Zoes pastor, says Fidel helped 60 widows and war orphans with food, clothing, and shelter as part of his ministry in the Burundi refugee camp.

“They had nothing,” Fidel says. Zoe Church sends donations to those still in the camp.

Source: AG News

An Appreciation for Clean Water and the Gospel

Charles Rukwaro vividly recalls his childhood. In Kenya, East Africa, every morning his mother joined other women in the village as early as 4 a.m. to go in search of clean water for their families. Carrying their containers on their heads in the darkness, the women walked for miles one way to reach drinkable water. And those years that drought struck, the daily journey was even longer as the lifeline to water was sometimes stretched dangerously thin.

Decades later, when now “Pastor” Charles Rukwaro found an opportunity to bring change in Africa, his personal experiences make it easy to understand why he recommended digging wells for African villages.

“We lived in an agricultural village — we were farmers,” the 47-year-old Rukwaro says. “Animals were being raised all over the place.” The large number of animals meant nearby ponds and seasonal streams were contaminated by animal waste. But the real struggle came when drought struck and villagers had to provide water for the animals as well as themselves.

Raised in a Pentecostal church, Rukwaro grew up and became a Pentecostal minister. He married and started a family with his wife, Linah. They ministered in a larger village for about 10 years where water was more readily available, but Rukwaro never forgot the value of or hardship frequently accompanying attaining clean water.

In 2008, Rukwaro and his family moved to the United States. It wasn’t easy at first, but in 2009 they started to attend Lynnfield (Massachusetts) Calvary Christian Church (AG). Rukwaro liked what he heard. In 2011, the lead pastor, Timothy Schmidt, was going to Kenya on a missions trip and invited Rukwaro to come along.

Through that trip, Schmidt and Rukwaro began a friendship, and in 2012, Schmidt asked Rukwaro to join the church staff as an associate pastor to lead prayer, evangelism, and compassion ministries for the church.

Over time, Rukwaro felt more and more impressed that Calvary Christian needed to be a part of Africa Oasis Project — the AG World Missions ministry that digs water wells that include a spiritual purpose. The pastor and congregation, which Rukwaro says are very missions minded, liked the idea. Now, all he needed to do was raise the money.

“If you’re a Kenyan, people believe you automatically know something about running,” Rukwaro says with a bit of a laugh. “So, I started a 5K run that was a part of a family fun day to raise some funds for digging the wells.”

Leighton O’Connor, a lay minister at Calvary Christian, partnered with Rukwaro in developing the event, which includes a community barbeque.

“We have anywhere from 175 to 275 runners and walkers every year,” O’Connor says of the annual event that began in 2014. “And following that, is a family fun day, that includes a free barbeque meal, which is a way of thanking the racers, walkers, sponsors, and volunteers. It’s also a great draw to encourage people to attend, even if they are not a runner or walker.”

Calvary Christian, which averages between 1,400 to 1,700 on Sunday mornings, has used the event to partner with Africa Oasis, missionaries, and national pastors to dig wells in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. With this year’s fund raiser, they are returning to Kenya to drill another well.

“In addition to drilling the well, we are working to raise money to also build the support system for the well, including the holding tank and tower, piping, and shelter,” O’Connor says.

The wells, which are typically drilled on church property in a village, have produced the intended outcomes — villages now have a nearby source of fresh, clean water and the local AG church has an immediate connection to every family in the community.

“The wells have created good relationships between the churches and their communities,” says Rukwaro, who has joined O’Connor on two of his trips to Africa to visit the well sites. “The people really appreciate the efforts the churches have made.”

But the African churches aren’t the only ones seeing improved community relations. One of the unexpected blessings for Calvary Christian has been experiencing better relationships within their own community.

“We have been able to connect ourselves with our neighbors, who in the past did not see the relevance of the church in their neighborhood,” Rukwaro says. “But now that people see the church involved in physically improving the lives of people, they want to join in because they want to connect with that.”

In addition to improving the lives of people overseas, Rukwaro says Calvary Christian is also heavily involved in meeting local physical needs. “We feed about 250 to 300 families every month working with a local food bank, we have a prison outreach, a pantry, an ESL (English as a second language) program, and we take inmates’ kids to camp each summer.”

Recently the church decided to make the well program a separate non-profit so it could more easily pursue grants to help expand its reach. “We incorporated as ‘Good Hope, Inc.’ and I’m the director of the program,” Rukwaro explains. “The wells are now called ‘Good Hope wells’ and we are looking to expand the church’s ability to meet humanitarian needs in order to have the opportunity to meet more spiritual needs.”

Introducing people to Jesus is the ultimate goal for Rukwaro and Calvary Christian. But they also fully understand that for every container that is first filled with clean water, the result is an open door to share the gospel and, potentially, for a soul to be filled with the Living Water only God can provide.

Source: AG News

A New Generation

Growing up as an Assemblies of God pastor’s kid, it isn’t surprising that Ryan R. Visconti, 33, is now pastoring Generation Church in Mesa, Arizona — listed among Outreach magazine’s 100 fastest-growing churches in the nation the past two years. But it wasn’t a totally seamless transition.

In college, Visconti drifted from the Lord, joined the Army, and married briefly. After his divorce, Visconti deployed to Iraq as a captain cavalry officer. Although depressed and contemplating suicide, he felt prompted to read the first chapter of the Gospel of John.

“I had a supernatural experience and was refilled with the Holy Spirit,” Visconti says. “I had this overwhelming sense of God’s love. A lifetime of ‘preacher’s kid’ head knowledge finally transferred to my heart.”

For the remainder of his deployment, Visconti healed emotionally and grew in his relationship with God. As his four-year enlistment came to a close, he thought about going to law school. But God had other plans.

“The Holy Spirit spoke to me and I realized God was calling me to ministry,” Visconti says.

Out of the military, Visconti began working on a master’s degree in theological studies. After graduation, Visconti joined the staff where his father, Randy, pastored, Celebration Church in Mesa. The number of young families attending had declined, and through a season of prayer and coaching, the staff took steps to maximize limited resources and shift the focus of the church to the Sunday morning service.

“That’s where you’re most likely to reach someone,” Ryan Visconti says. The church also cut some ministries.    

“They were diluting our focus, which was Sunday mornings,” Visconti says. “We started doing small groups instead, and when we did, the church started to grow.”

The staff also started conducting Sunday services with the assumption that the audience included non-Christians.

Our people became more evangelistic as they became more mindful of the lost,” Visconti says.

In 2014, the church relaunched as Generation Church co-pastored by Ryan and Randy Visconti. The church averaged 500 adherents and added 288 more by 2015 — a 40 percent increase.

In 2015, Visconti became lead pastor. Generation has continued to grow since, and although auxiliary ministries have been added back, the focus remains simple: Sunday worship, small groups, and kid’s ministries. The latter is led by Visconti’s wife, Amy, 31, who is also the director of kid’s ministry for the AG Arizona Ministry Network.

Stephen L. Harris, AG Arizona Ministry Network superintendent, says Ryan and Amy’s fresh leadership style yielded immediate results.

“They began to attract young families who were drawn to Generation Church,” Harris says Ryan and Amy are great young leaders and have a big vision to reach their communities.”

This year, Amy’s father, Paul D. Lavino, merged the congregation he pastored with Generation Church. It now has a second campus with 350 adherents. Additionally, since the spring, the Mesa campus has grown by 350, bringing total average attendance to 1,800 per week. Lavino is administrative pastor while Randy Visconti is assistant pastor.

“One of our leadership values is ‘show our passion’,” says Ryan Visconti. “Our church is Spirit-filled, and people sense that when they come in.”

Source: AG News