A Native Success Story

The turning point for Native Americans Joel and Sharon Cornelius happened when the troubled young married couple attended a service at an Assemblies of God church in Durango, Colorado. Immediately after surrendering their lives to Jesus, the couple wanted to share their newfound joy with others.

Their pastor suggested they attend Bible college. Sharon, a Navajo, had a cousin at American Indian College in Phoenix.

“The Lord was there,” says Joel Cornelius, 54, who is half Oneida Indian. “People were going out and sharing the gospel. Something just felt like I should try that.”

Within a year of coming to faith in Christ, the couple began their studies at AIC. While being discipled there, the couple took part in inner-city ministry. In 1989, Joel Cornelius earned a degree in church ministry; Sharon finished her degree a year later. From there, the couple pastored in Arizona, Montana, North Dakota, and Washington state, reaching Native Americans with the gospel, and participating in many short-term mission trips.

In the two years that the couple has pastored Tuba City Assembly of God, located on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, the church has doubled in average attendance to 240, making it among the country’s largest Native American congregations. As with the Corneliuses, most congregants in the church come from non-Christian backgrounds.

“We want to help Navajo people fulfill the Great Commission,” Cornelius says.

The United States has 5.2 million Native Americans. John E. Maracle, 66, a Mohawk Indian and chief/president of the Assemblies of God Native American Fellowship, notes that AG ministry among them began in the 1930s. Of 601 tribes, today 190 Assemblies of God churches minister on 104 reservations in 27 states.

Sixty years ago, AG missionary Alta Washburn founded AIC to prepare Native peoples for church ministry. That mission today includes an Associate’s degree in Bible and a Bachelor’s degree in Church Leadership, as well as an Associate’s and a recently added Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. The College also offers a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. These degrees fit AIC’s goal of preparing Native American men and women for life and ministry service, AIC President David J. Moore says.

Today, AIC is the only Christian college with multiple majors serving primarily Native American students, thus revitalizing their communities spiritually and professionally. AIC’s mission is to provide students with one-on-one attention to help them succeed. To that end, average class size is 10. While most students are Navajo or Apache, in any given year, as many as 40 tribes have been represented at the school, according to Joseph J. Saggio, administrative dean of the college. This semester, 82 students are enrolled.

Last year, AIC partnered with the Waxahachie, Texas-based Southwestern Assemblies of God University, which allows AIC students to study additional subjects online. The school is now called SAGU American Indian College.

Social woes abound for Native peoples. Median income for Native American families is about 70 percent that of the overall national population. By race, the highest national poverty rate is among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Nine states have Native populations with poverty rates of about 30 percent. Likewise, unemployment is high.

Reservation communities are often economically depressed, stricken with alcoholism, and pervaded by a sense of hopelessness, Moore says.

“Spiritually, there’s a void,” he says. AIC’s most recent reported graduation rate is 50 percent, giving it the second-highest rate nationally for colleges serving primarily Native American students. AIC alumni have become teachers and school administrators, substance abuse counselors, hospital workers, community leaders, a postmaster general, and ministers, including more than half of Apache and Navajo pastors.

Today, Christianity is spreading throughout those tribes.

“Reservation communities are expanding the growth of the church and are strongly influencing the community,” Moore says. Native American teachers are particularly important examples to their people.

“A Native American with an education degree is in a powerful position to influence,” Moore says. “(Students) identify with them, and the kids have someone they can look up to as a role model.”

For example, SAGU AIC foundation board member Rea Goklish is the first Native American school superintendent on the White Mountain Apache reservation. Fellow graduate Deborah Tom supervises all 12 elementary schools on the New Mexico side of the Navajo reservation. Both women hold Doctor of Education degrees.

Moore notes that five of nine elected to the White Mountain Apache tribal council attend Assemblies of God churches. The other four are Pentecostal. While some Native American peoples remain largely resistant to the gospel, nearly all the 150 Navajo communities have an AG congregation or Pentecostal church, Moore says. SAGU AIC graduates pastor many of these churches and are active in community life and leadership. Many tribal council members have been from the AG, and one current council member is a graduate of AIC.

SAGU AIC fulfills an essential role in reaching these populations, because Native Americans are more receptive to the gospel from other tribal members rather than those from other races.

“This school has a huge place in equipping young people to do what I do,” Cornelius says. “There is desperate need for young pastors to become equipped and come back and have the baton passed to them.”

Cornelius continues to preach at reservation church camp meetings and point Christian youth to SAGU AIC, which he cites as integral to his spiritual formation.

“It started a process in my life that God has continued to build on,” he says. “It equips people to follow God.”

Source: AG News

Faith and Evidence — Enemies or Allies?

The Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies (CHLS) provides a regular column to PE News that offers deep and sometimes surprising insight into the Word of God through close examination of the culture of the day, biblical sites, and archaeological records. In this article, Wave Nunnally, Ph.D., professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Evangel University and a regular instructor in Israel for CHLS, examines the biblical meaning of faith.

After living, studying, and teaching in Israel and other parts of the Middle East for more than 35 years, one question consistently surfaces at some point during our study trips. It usually sounds something like this: “All this is great, but if there’s so much evidence to support the Bible and what we believe, where does ‘faith’ come in?” Honestly, this is an excellent question and deserves a good answer. The two purposes of this article are 1) to define the nature of biblical faith and 2) to explore the relationship between this faith and the evidence that exists to support it.

Much has been said about “faith” in the charismatic and Pentecostal portions of Evangelicalism in the past half-century or so. It has been defined as being everything from “clinging to God” to “believing in” a certain set of doctrines to “the power of positive thinking” to us decreeing our own future (“You have what you say!”).

The Bible, however, presents a quite different set of dynamics when describing “faith.” When God tells Moses how to identify Him as the God who would deliver them from their bondage in polytheistic Egypt, He tells him, “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:13-15). God was calling on His people to trust Him because He had consistently demonstrated His trustworthiness in history through His interactions with their ancestors: “faith” informed by evidence.

 

The New Testament is no different. Luke tells us that after Jesus’ resurrection, “He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:3). Similarly, Paul tells us, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all…He appeared to me also…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Both authors are appealing to physical and eyewitness testimony. As in the Old Testament, so also in the New Testament: faith is informed by evidence.

 

But what of verses like “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1) and “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?” (Romans 8:24)? A quick check of the contexts reveals that these authors are describing the futuristic (see also 1 Peter 1:5) aspect of faith—these things aren’t seen because they hadn’t happened yet (see Hebrews 11:13 and Romans 8:25 for the full context of these passages)! What we saw in Exodus, Acts, and 1 Corinthians (but see also Romans 5:9-10; 6:4a, 5a; 2 Corinthians 5:17b; Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 1:12; 1 Peter 1:3, etc.), however, is that there is more to faith than just the futuristic component: there is also a past aspect of faith. In addition to this, there is also the present aspect of faith: “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:16; see also Romans 6:4b; 2 Corinthians 5:17a; Philippians 2:12, etc.).

 

But do not the teachings of Jesus instruct us, “…unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2-3)? These words must be taken seriously, but they must also be taken in context. While it is popular to interpret these words of Jesus to mean that we need to become vulnerable, simplistic, pliable, innocent, or dependent, none of these aspects of childlikeness are intended here. How can we be so sure? It’s because Jesus Himself clarifies His point of reference in the very next verse, “Whoever therefore humbles himself as this child…” (Matthew 18:4).

 

The Scriptures condemn the intellectually proud (Romans 1:22; 1 Corinthians 13:2, etc.) and the willful simpleton (Proverbs 1:7, 22, etc.) with equal vigor. Both Testaments ground our faith in empirical reality: history, physical evidence, and eyewitness testimony — what Josh McDowell called “evidence that demands a verdict.” Real, biblical “faith” is based on the faithful, covenant-keeping nature of God revealed in history. Both Judaism and Christianity are historically-based faiths. Both have hope for the future, but this is an informed trust in God based on His past track record of trustworthiness, not on personal intuition, personal revelation, guess-work, or a “blind leap of faith.”

 

When we study together in the lands of the Bible, we see the depth and the richness of this historically-based, evidence-based faith of ours every day and every place we visit. We see a geography that still perfectly matches the descriptions it receives in the Bible. We see archeological contents of city after city that confirm the words and clarify the meanings of Scriptures long held in question by critics. We read ancient texts and inscriptions that testify to the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Scriptures upon which we base our current life and eternal destiny. In this incredibly fertile spiritual soil, our faith is clarified, confirmed, and strengthened. Our roots grow deep down in the soil of reality.

 

So many of us have secretly longed to have been alive during biblical times. Most have longed to walk where Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Paul, and Peter walked. We have all wanted to have complete assurance that the faith we have committed to is unquestionably and tangibly real. Thousands of such people have gone back in time and walked those very roads through participation in one of our study trips. More importantly, they have seen for themselves enough biblical reality to ground and root their relationship with God and trust in His Word in solid, visible, tangible, biblical reality. As soon as you are able, we encourage you to join us for study in these biblical lands, where regularly, “faith becomes sight!”

By Photograph: the Israel Antiquities Authority 1993; photographer not named. (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Source: AG News

An Unlikely Journey

At 5’8 and 150 pounds, Southwestern Assemblies of God University’s (SAGU) kicker Tluang Hmung may not look like a force to be reckoned with on the football field. Yet, the stand-out kicker from Lewisville, Texas, has made a name for himself as a valued member of the Lions. 

Hmung finished the season ranked ninth in the nation in the NAIA Division I for scoring (kicking) with 7.1 points per game, and ninth in total scoring (kicking) with 78 points. He was ranked four other times in the top 20 in different kicking categories.

While Hmung’s success on the gridiron is no small feat, his personal story of perseverance through persecution is truly inspiring. 

Hmung and his family previously lived in the Chin state of Burma. “My biggest memory from my time living in Burma is waking up early in the morning and going to Sunday School with friends,” recalls Hmung.

Though Hmung may have fond memories of attending Sunday School, growing up as a Christian in a country that is primarily Buddhist resulted in continued bouts of religious persecution directed at him and his family. 

Eventually, his family made the decision to leave Burma and flee to Malaysia when he was just 10 years old. “It took us about eight hours to get to Malaysia and we walked in the middle of the night,” explains Hmung.

Once in Malaysia, the Hmung family was able to decide their next step. With Hmung’s grandfather living in Lewisville, they decided it would be their next destination.  The Hmung family made the move to Texas in 2005.

Moving 8,500 miles away from the only home they had ever known posed many challenges for Hmung and his family. “When I arrived here I was just overwhelmed,” he says. “Everything was different — the food, people, houses. I also didn’t speak any English.”

Hmung may have initially felt out of place, but he would soon find a second home on the football field. Football was completely new for him. However, Hmung grew up playing soccer in Burma and through a little encouragement from his father, he tried out as a kicker for the football team in middle school. He quickly found success as the position fit him perfectly. 

Today, Hmung is a sophomore at SAGU and continues to showcase his talents on the football field. 

Beyond football, Hmung is preparing for his life outside of SAGU.  He is currently studying youth and student ministries. “I’m hoping to become a youth pastor or coach when I’m done with school.”

However, before he crosses the graduation stage, the Lions look forward to more years with Hmung leading the charge at every kick-off.

Source: AG News

Wraparound Care Journey

Since 2011, Journey Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has operated an active adoption and foster care ministry, to the point where 40 families in the congregation now are involved in one or the other, or both.

However, because of the stress and unexpected demands, foster parents can be ripe for burnout. An element of support for such families seemed to be missing.

Until now.

Thanks to COMPACT Family Services, Journey Church and other congregations throughout the nation are receiving training on how to alleviate the burden. A recently published CompaCare System Manual delineates the concept of wraparound care to support families with foster children in their home. The CompaCare model of ministry includes a guidebook and training that assists congregations in recruiting volunteer helpers to support foster parents.

“God connected us to CompaCare at the perfect time,” says Journey Church Executive Pastor Bob W. Griffith. “The wraparound plan will change foster care not just in our church, but in the entire county.”

Eric and Katie Voight initiated a volunteer foster care and adoption ministry at Journey Church 6 years ago at the behest of Lead Pastor Kevin S. Taylor. The Voights have five children: Josiah, 15; Birhan, 12; Alaina, 10, Grace, 8; and Micah, 7. Four of the children were adopted, three of them from Ethiopia.

“We’ve watched God move not only in the hearts of the congregation, but also in church leadership,” Voight says. He notes that Griffith and his wife, Wendy, have three adopted children and a foster child, in addition to their two biological children.

By 2020, Taylor hopes that 200 families in the church of 3,500 attendees are engaged in foster care, adoption, or wraparound support care.

“What a difference it makes when the pastor is on board,” says COMPACT Director of Family and Community Resources Johan Mostert, who authored the bulk of the 90-page CompaCare manual.

Journey Church already is taking care of 20 percent of the foster kids living in Kenosha, a city of 100,000 midway between Milwaukee and Chicago. Griffith believes the church can step up and help care for the 86 kids currently from Kenosha who do not have a home. In fact, Griffith says the CompaCare training has opened doors with local and state officials interested in learning more about how the church can help.

Griffith, 42, is in a Southeastern University doctoral program, with a final project of how to grow foster care and adoption in the local church. His passion for this ministry stems from adopting three children and serving as a foster parent for four years. The Griffith children are Lindsay, 14; Mark, 12; Madison, 9; Kelsey, 4; and Brooks,

“Not everyone can foster a child, but everyone can do something,” Griffith says. The James 1:27 mandate of caring for the orphan is doable because of CompaCare, Griffith says. Journey Church recently took the first step in the CompaCare plan and recruited a dozen wraparound volunteers.

“Wraparound care will help families feel like they’re not alone,” Voight says.

Griffith cites Christian Alliance for Orphans statistics that show while 38 percent of American churchgoers want to be involved in foster care or adoption, in reality only 1 percent of the average congregation actually is. Indeed, Griffith conducted a survey at Journey Church and found 150 additional people are interested in helping in such a ministry.

A CompaCare strategy that really increases the retention rate, Griffith says, involves recruiting five foster families, two respite families and 15 support volunteers.

“Everyone talks about how the system isn’t working right,” says Griffith. “This is an actual plan to involve the local church in solutions. CompaCare will help the church move forward with the vision.”

That additional wraparound support includes such elements as providing meals for the family, a night of baby-sitting so the parents can have a night out alone, clothes and supplies to meet the needs of the new arrivals, and respite care so the parents can have a weekend break.

“Kids are in foster care for a reason,” Voight says. “Their parents were incapable of caring for them and they have experienced a lot in their young lives.”

The Voights have been married for 18 years. In 2005, their biological daughter, Allison, died at 8 months.

“We’ve dealt with a lot of grief, but our passion is fueled for kids who are suffering,” Voight says.

Source: AG News

New Intercultural Ministries Leader

Arthur Wayne Huffman has been appointed the new senior director of Intercultural Ministries, one of the seven divisions in Assemblies of God U.S. Missions.

Huffman succeeds Malcolm P. Burleigh, who served as the Intercultural Ministries senior director for 8 years prior to his August election as executive director of U.S. Missions. Senior director appointments are approved by the Executive Presbytery, the highest governing body of the Assemblies of God.  

Along with his wife, Drue, Huffman has served as an Intercultural Ministries missionary since 2014, ministering to refugees and immigrants entering the United States. The Huffmans, through a ministry they started, have planted thriving ethnic churches, including a children’s ministry in inner-city Phoenix.

They also opened an Arabic Bible school to train Christian Arabs in the U.S. to minister to other immigrants. Prior to joining U.S. Missions, the Huffmans served as Assemblies of God world missionaries for two decades in Europe, where Wayne helped develop AG policy on ministry to the large numbers of refugees and immigrants entering the European continent.

“Wayne Huffman comes to U.S. Missions with a wealth of experience,” Burleigh says. “The recent work with refugees and immigrants in Arizona, as well as serving as a metro area field representative for Intercultural Ministries, makes him a perfect fit for this assignment.”

Huffman assumed his new duties Nov. 20. He is responsible for supervising and resourcing a team of over 300 missionaries and spouses. In addition to immigrants and refugees, Intercultural Ministries missionaries serve native ethnic and cultural populations, persons with disabilities, the blind, deaf, trafficking victims, at-risk children, and others whose circumstances require special communication or cultural understanding.  

Source: AG News

The Last Crusade

In his 58-year ministry career, global evangelist Reinhard Bonnke encountered jealous rivals, angry witch doctors, violent thunderstorms, corrupt heads of state, and rioting crowds.

While many Americans may have never heard of Bonnke, his ministry, Christ for all Nations (CfaN), says over 76 million people have filled out decision cards in response to salvation invitations. Most of those conversions occurred in Africa. The harvest is especially bountiful in Nigeria, where Bonnke, a native of Germany, focused his ministry for much of the 21st century.

Earlier this month, the 77-year-old evangelist preached what is likely his last revival campaign.

“It’s his final Africa crusade, but most probably his final one ever,” says CfaN Vice President Peter Vandenberg. More than 1.7 million people attended the five-day crusade in Lagos, Nigeria, and that total topped 2.5 million across all livestream channels.

Bonnke started CfaN in 1974 in Johannesburg and moved to Frankfurt, Germany, in 1985. He has conducted gospel outreaches in 47 nations. The vast majority — tent and open-air evangelistic campaigns — took place in 34 African countries. CfaN has offices in nine countries around the globe.

“Bonnke’s ministry planted gospel seed and encouraged the Church all across Africa,” says Gregory L. Beggs, Assemblies of God Africa regional director.

Indeed, Bonnke has shown no trepidation in treading where few Christians want to venture because of poverty, interreligious strife, and violence. Although he has escaped foiled murder plots at the hands of Islamist extremists, Bonnke refuses to categorize Muslims his foes.

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is all inclusive, the love of God does not discriminate,” Bonnke says. “I do not preach against religions; I preach Christ. I do not consider those who oppose us enemies, because Jesus died for them as much as He died for me.”

Crowds typically grew in a weeklong revival when word spread about miracles occurring. In 2000, Bonnke preached to 1.6 million people attending a single meeting in Lagos, and, according to CfaN, nearly 1.1 million of those accepted Jesus as Savior.

“I still have only one sermon,” Bonnke wrote in his 630-page autobiography, Living a Life of Fire. “I preach the simple ABCs of the gospel.”

Beginning in his early years, Bonnke sought the cooperation of a wide spectrum of Christian denominations. Bonnke followed the crusade organizational playbook created by Billy Graham. Local pastors invest months preparing beforehand because their churches stand to reap the rewards of the outreach.

“I tell the pastors of the city I am an evangelist,” explains Bonnke, initially ordained by the Federation of Pentecostal Churches in Germany. “I bring my nets; I want to borrow your boats so that we together will have a mighty catch of fish and then pull that net to the shore. I will not take a single fish with me. I take my nets and go to the next city.”

Bonnke moved his headquarters to Orlando, Florida, 16 years ago, and in 2007 received ordination from the Assemblies of God Peninsular Florida District Council as an evangelist. He became a U.S. citizen in 2012, and embarked on his first U.S. revival a year later.

INTERNATIONAL INFLUENCE

Candy Gunther Brown, a Pentecostal/charismatic historian at the University of Indiana, noted that Bonnke’s old-fashioned traditional techniques of crusade evangelism worked well in Africa.

“His meetings are big events,” Brown observes. “People come to his meetings often because they are sick, they are disabled, they feel spiritually oppressed.”

Even though Bonnke remains relatively unknown in North America, H. Vinson Synan, dean emeritus of Regent University’s School of Divinity, believes Bonnke’s legacy will be unparalleled.

“He will go down as the greatest mass evangelist of all time as far as numbers of converts and huge crowds that hear him speak,” declares Synan, who first attended a Bonnke tent crusade in Zimbabwe in 1986.

“I saw the greatest miracles I’ve ever seen,” recalls Synan, who 30 years ago convinced Bonnke to begin keeping meticulous records. “Blind people received sight, people walked out of wheelchairs. Everybody goes to Bonnke crusades — Catholics, Muslims, people from all religions, and those with no religion. There is nothing quite like that in the history of evangelism.”

Certainly, no Western evangelist has spent as much time in the sub-Sahara as Bonnke.

“Reinhard Bonnke rivals Billy Graham in terms of influence, it just so happens it isn’t centered in the United States,” Brown says. “He has a lasting impact in Africa because, like Graham, he really networks with local churches and emphasizes follow-up.”

Even after decades of preaching, Bonnke says many of God’s ways are mysterious.

“When I pray for someone and that person is not healed, I do not blame it on a lack of faith,” Bonnke wrote in his autobiography. “The longer I live, the less I pretend to know about the mind of God. I do not know why some are healed and others are not. I only know that sometimes it is the faith of a sick person that makes them whole, and sometimes it is the faith of others.”

SUCCESSOR CHOSEN

Bonnke has passed the CfaN baton to Daniel Kolenda, whom he calls “a capable and anointed man of God.” Kolenda, a graduate of the AG’s Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, is a fifth-generation preacher. He began working in the CfaN mailroom in 2004 as a way to supplement his income as a church planter.

While still going strong, the German evangelist took the unusual step of promoting Kolenda to president and CEO of CfaN in 2009. For the past six years, Kolenda, 36, has been at Bonnke’s side, preaching to millions on his own as CfaN’s “lead evangelist.” Far from crusade evangelism being a relic of the past, Bonnke believes CfaN could realize even more salvation decisions under Kolenda’s mantle.

Synan and Brown commend Bonnke’s decision to have his successor primed and ready.

“It is the best case of a Timothy coming alongside for active training that I have ever seen,” says Synan, who believes Kolenda appears to possess the same drawing power as his teacher.

Source: AG News

Major Donations "Game Changers" for Ability Tree Ministry

Over the past three months, U.S. missionaries Joe and Jen Butler, co-founders of Ability Tree and ministering under AG U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries, have found God not only answering their prayers, but answering them in a big way!

First, in September, Ability Tree was gifted $75,000 to purchase property for a future new home location. Then, it received an unexpected $500,000 grant in November as a lead gift in constructing the new facility!

Ability Tree is a multi-state program founded in 2010 and headquartered in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. The program is a ministry to children with disabilities and their parents, providing recreation, education, support, and training. However, the need for a new home had become increasingly clear over the last several years.

When the Soderquist family told Joe about the half-million-dollar gift his response was relatively reserved — he admits he was in shock.

“I thanked them, of course, but at that meeting I was just expecting them to tell me a timetable of when they might make a decision,” Joe recalls. “I was overwhelmed. It really didn’t hit me about what had just happened until I got to my car and called my wife . . . that (grant) was a real game changer for our ministry.”

Ability Tree’s current home is located in downtown Siloam Springs in part of what used to be a theater, feed store, and grocery store. It occupied about 4,000 square-feet, or about one-third of the property. About three years ago, the Butlers started to try to acquire the rest of the building, but the effort fell apart.

Joe admits there were times of frustration, but he also recognized — and even more so now —that waiting on God’s timing may not always be the easiest way to go, but it is always the best way to go.

In another gifting to the ministry, the design rendering of the new facility was donated by Harrison French & Associates (HFA) as pro bono work. The one-of-a-kind facility will provide students, families, and faculty a spacious 10,000-square-foot “Rest and Recreation Center.” It will house a half-court gym with a retractable stage and seating for plays and training, a sensory gym, a multi-sensory environment room, soft-play equipment, trampolines, balance beams, a Lego room, an accessible tree house, a calming room, a craft room, and a covered outdoor play area in addition to administrative offices.

“This will triple the number of kids and families (currently about 80) that we’re going to be able to serve in Northwest Arkansas,” Joe says. “We’re also considering the possibility of buying the lot next to this one so in the future we could expand the facility to include a full-court gym, housing, therapy rooms, and possibly a conference center.”

Malcolm Burleigh, executive director of U.S. Missions, expressed appreciation for the Butlers as “faithful servants” through U.S. Missions the past 6½ years. “Their heart of service and compassion is a reflection of Christ’s life in them, and their expertise in providing for the needs of person with disabilities is exemplary,” he stated. “We rejoice and give thanks for those who have given to this ministry with a kind heart and generous hand. Their partnership with Ability Tree will refresh and encourage families, reaping many souls for the Kingdom.”

The Butlers are hoping to break ground on the new facility by the end of February and be moved in by the spring or summer of 2019. They are also currently connecting with and applying for grants from other Christian-based organizations and foundations to completely fund the project.

The Soderquist family, which had 30 to 40 members of their leadership center come out for a workday at Ability Tree prior to presenting their grant, released a telling statement concerning the grant and the reason Ability Tree was a recipient of the generous gift:

The Soderquist family acknowledges that our wealth has been entrusted into our care by the Lord. We realize and accept the responsibility that God has given us as stewards of that wealth to be faithful . . . The focus of the Soderquist family’s giving is to invest in organizations and people that change lives. 

The donation to purchase the land was a $25,000 gift in memory of Maryann McEachern, who served as a special educator for many years, by her daughter, Shelley Simmons. Simmons Foods also pledged to donate $50,000 over the next five years to Ability Tree.

“For someone to invest in our mission — to come alongside families like our own — was just overwhelming,” says Joe, whose son, Micah, is autistic. “It confirmed this is God’s plan for our lives — He will provide and continue to provide as long as we stay on vision and on mission.”
Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — November 24, 1945

Ruth Trotter Garlock (1897-1997) and her husband, Henry B. Garlock, were Assemblies of God missionary pioneers in Liberia, Ghana, and Malawi. Several generations of Assemblies of God members grew up reading Henry’s colorful stories about their lives and ministry among African cannibals and witch doctors. However, Ruth’s story often seemed overshadowed by her husband’s big personality. A careful reading of their writings reveals a remarkable woman who endured great sacrifice to follow God’s call.

Ruth received the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a teenager in an Assembly of God church in Newark, New Jersey, under Pastor E. S. Williams. After this experience, she believed that total consecration to God was her life’s calling. One evening in prayer, God showed her a triangle with Himself at the apex and her at one corner. There was a strong line connecting Him to her. At the other corner was the continent of Africa with a strong line connecting God to Africa. What was missing in the triangle was a line connecting Ruth to Africa. She felt God telling her He was already connected to Africa but so many there did not know it yet. She heard the call, “Will you be the connection to go tell them, and complete the triangle?”

Her mother strongly resisted the idea. Ruth was her only daughter and Africa was a terribly dangerous place even for strong young men. Ruth’s parents had divorced recently and her income was needed to help support the family. However, after hearing the passionate stories from a missionary to India, Ruth’s mother tearfully but willingly gave her total support to her daughter’s call to African missions.

After receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit, Ruth determined that she would never marry a man unless he was a committed Christian. After her missions commitment, she added the requirement of a sincere call to Africa for any man she would consider. Her friends predicted she would die an old maid, but she was steadfast.

She took a job teaching school while her brother, Alfred, went to Beulah Heights Missionary Training School in North Bergen, New Jersey. She would often visit, bringing home-cooked goodies for him and his friends. One particular friend, Henry, was very friendly and attentive and Ruth found herself drawn to him. When she discovered the depth of his Christian character and his steadfast focus on African missions, she knew her requirements were met and gave herself permission to fall deeply in love with the dashing Henry Garlock.

Upon Henry’s graduation from Beulah Heights in 1920, they became engaged and Henry received Assemblies of God missionary appointment to Liberia, West Africa. Ruth saw him off at the pier in New York on Oct. 23, knowing that he was going to prepare a place for her to come as soon as her teaching contract was up in the spring of 1921.

Meanwhile, Henry found an abandoned missionary station in the Gropaka area of Liberia. The crudely erected gravestones in the yard testified why the building was empty. When Henry climbed the steps into the house they crumbled underneath him due to the damage caused by termites. Inside he found a rendezvous of rats, snakes, scorpions, and huge lizards. White ants had long ago eaten the bamboo shades on the windows.

Henry asked himself if it was the right thing to bring his young bride to such a place. After praying, he felt assurance from God that Ruth’s call was just as real as his, and her commitment to the mission was just as solid. He went to work, trusting that he could have it ready for her by her arrival sometime in June.

On June 26, 1921, Henry arose at daybreak and went to the coast to meet Ruth’s ship. Ruth had traveled thousands of miles to join him and the reunion was sweet after eight months apart.

The next day they engaged a boat to carry them deeper into the interior, and two days later they were wed with another missionary couple serving as witnesses and the hammock bearers and porters as the audience. For a ring, Henry hired a native blacksmith to melt down the gold from an English coin.

The day after the wedding they arose at 2 a.m. to begin the two-day trek to their home, riding in a dug-out canoe through crocodileinfested waters, walking miles on jungle trails in the rain, and wading through waist-high waters. When they arrived, Henry and Ruth were blessed to find that a neighboring chief had heard of their marriage and greeted them with a young steer and a goat for a wedding feast. That night they held their first church service together in Africa. The adventure of a lifetime had begun. 

Together, Henry and Ruth spent more than 60 years in ministry, pioneering fields that now have strong Pentecostal churches.

When Henry passed away in 1985, his 86-year-old widow wanted to address the crowd gathered to honor the great missionary. In a strong voice she shared some of their story of love and adventure, ending with, “Well, folks, this is how Henry always did it. Every place we ever moved to, he went there first” to get things ready.

At age 89, Ruth’s daughter-in-law was leading a missions trip to Haiti. Ruth said to her, “Please take me with you. I want to be a missionary one more time.” Her assignment on the trip was to sit in a big rocker in the orphanage to cuddle and rock the dozens of infants, praying over each one, trusting that God would call some of them to finish the unfinished task of the missionary harvest.

When it comes to missionary couples, we often hear more of the adventurous exploits of the husband. Henry Garlock’s activities made him a legend and his book, Before We Kill and Eat You, is a standard missionary biography; however, the faithful bravery of Ruth Trotter Garlock made contributions to missions on the African continent that only heaven will reveal.

Read about one of Henry and Ruth Garlock’s treks in Africa on page 13 of the Nov. 24, 1945,  issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Life of Thanksgiving,” by Anna C. Berg

• “Giving Thanks Always,” by Grant Barber

• “Victory Through Praise,” by Hattie Pitts

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now

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

Source: AG News

Once Around the Block

An inner-city ministry in Iowa started at the height of the Jesus movement is shifting its focus to reach a largely biblically unaware generation.

Helen I. Martin launched New Life Church in 1972 and served as pastor for 40 years before retiring. Jamel Crawford has been lead pastor since 2013.

“The church has always wanted to bring hope to the broken,” says Crawford, 41. “Today it looks different, but the goal is the same.”

In the early 1970s, the vicinity regularly featured loud parties, burglaries, and illegal drug deals. Martin organized a “Jericho march” around one of the crack houses. Crack dealers yelled death threats. The following day, occupants suddenly and inexplicably moved away.

A small group from the Assemblies of God church prayed in front of another crack house, prompting a dealer to inquire about the gathering.

“I told him, ‘We’re praying you guys out of the neighborhood,’” Martin recalls. The dealer laughed, saying police had never concerned him, so a little circle of praying Christians certainly didn’t intimidate him. Two days later police arrested the man on a drug charge.

The sweet-spirited but tough-when- necessary Martin started the church as a coffeehouse in 1972, to reach out to those who might not be welcomed elsewhere. Miraculous healings and deliverance from addictions took place at coffeehouse prayer meetings. Martin became a pastor, teacher, and counselor when the sheep needed a shepherd.

These days, instead of drug addicts, the neighborhood is replete with recent immigrant arrivals.

“The church truly has impacted the neighborhood for the better,” Crawford says. “Because of prayers and outreaches, drug infestation and gang violence are gone.”

Still, generational poverty is a characteristic of the mostly lower-income neighborhood.

“We want to reach out to young people and give them every opportunity to become followers of Jesus Christ,” Crawford says. “We want them to understand that Jesus can change their circumstances, that they don’t have to drop out of school or become alcoholics.”

Crawford, who grew up in the projects of Brooklyn, New York, understands life transformation. He graduated from the AG’s Central Bible College and earned a master’s in organizational leadership at Evangel University. He spent 10 years working at the YMCA of Greater Des Moines, including 5½ years as executive director, before joining the New Life Center staff. He previously worked as a youth leader at Des Moines First Assembly, where he met his wife, Melissa Kay. They have two sons, Jace, 3, and Jacoby, 19 months.

Next year, New Life Center will launch a Des Moines Dream Center, with a music studio, clothing closet, eye and dental care clinic, and foster care program. The church plans to start operating Sidewalk Sunday School ministry at half a dozen apartment complexes next spring.

“True transformation comes only from the Lord,” says Crawford, an Iowa Ministry Network sectional presbyter. “We want to provide an environment where people have a sense of hope, where people allow Christ to transform their lives in a tangible way.”

Donna Slaybaugh Walker, who has attended New Life Center for 38 years, believes Crawford is the perfect successor to Martin.

“Pastor Helen had the vision, but Pastor Jamel has the same vision of bringing hope to the broken,” says Walker, who is church secretary and kid’s ministry worker. Walker, 67, also taught at the Christian school the church operated for 25 years until it closed in 2004. “Pastor Jamel is carrying the vision out in a different way.”

An entire block is anchored by New Life Center — which owns a dozen rental properties. A total of 49 affordable units, mostly tucked in older two-story homes, are a major source of income for the ministry. Staff members all live on the block.

New Life Center also owns an 85-acre property 25 miles west of Des Moines that serves as a retreat house as well as summer camp for kids. The land has a pond, horses, and barn. Walker’s husband, Bob, is manager of the farm property.

Helen Martin will be 95 in January. Her husband was killed in the South Pacific near the end of World War II. A widow at 22, she never remarried. She raised a daughter, 8 months old when Martin’s husband died, as a single parent. Martin now lives in Redding, California, near her daughter and grandchildren.

Source: AG News

Bridging Economic Divisions

Dream big and start small. That’s Pastor Richard C. Gurganus’ prescription for starting the kind of outreach that has transformed a community in the eastern North Carolina city of Rocky Mount.

Begun as a missions initiative of Church on the Rise, over the past decade Rocky Mount Peacemakers has grown from neighborhood Bible studies into a multifaceted ministry touching numerous lives in this city of 55,000.

“We’ve got a heart for this neighborhood,” says Gurganus, 52, the church’s founding pastor. “We said let’s start something and see where it goes.”

In the past 11 years, it has grown to an interdenominational ministry with nearly 30 sponsors, including five churches. Its program features such components as after-school tutoring, a computer lab, Bible study and addiction recovery groups, and a summer school designed to enhance children’s reading skills.

Peacemakers also hosts monthly community events — such as a fall festival in October — at its 23,000-square-foot building, which formerly housed an auto parts plant. The property also served as home to a tobacco warehouse, now the site of a community playground, built last year with a $125,000 grant.

Peacemakers’ modest origins started with games of pickup kickball and Bible studies in South Rocky Mount. The area is bounded by railroad tracks that symbolize residents’ racial and economic differences with the rest of the city.

The games led to Saturday night cookouts that included a time for testimonies. Eventually, the church started hosting back-to-school bashes, featuring distribution of school supplies and other items to neighborhood residents.

Finally, Gurganus and Peacemakers Director Jesse M. Lewis flew to Miami to meet with Rich and Robyn Wilkerson of Trinity Church. The married AG pastors started the original Peacemakers in 1998 to secure a government grant that funded summer day camps for inner-city children.  

“Rich and Robyn said inner-city ministry always starts with children,” Gurganus recalls. “You will get the adults if you minister to their children. It’s why we have after-school care, summer schools, and the playground.”

Lewis says the trip helped them better understand how to put the pieces of the ministry together plus how to pursue funding from corporations and government grants. Those two sources now provide two-thirds of Rocky Mount Peacemakers’ annual budget.

After the visit, Church on the Rise invested $500,000 in acquiring and renovating the abandoned auto parts plant. It opened the community center in 2012. Along the way, the church benefited from the Wilkersons’ coaching.

“The Miami center mentored us,” Gurganus says. “They helped us learn how to write grants and choose good start-up programs. They recommended we start with Freedom Schools.”

Those eight-week, summertime enrichment programs enrolled 180 children (all but 36 in elementary school) this year. Previous participants’ have experienced average reading scores increasing by 19 months.

“Even if a kid is behind, we can get them back up if we can get them a couple of summers in a row,” says Lewis, 51. “If kids are struggling in elementary school, when they get to middle school they’re going to struggle to make it in life. We try to correct things before then.”

The community center is also home to Church on the Rise’s south campus. Reflecting the neighborhood, church attendance averages about 60 percent African-American and 40 percent white.

Although the 21-year-old main campus originally had primarily white members, Gurganus says it started being more inclusive five years into its existence. Peacemakers helped accelerate the congregation’s openness to diversity, which is demonstrated among staff, elders, and deacons.

“It took a while to get there, but it was in preparation for what God called us to be,” Gurganus says.

Source: AG News