Rural Ministry Matters

Five years ago, Bryan Jarrett lived what most Assemblies of God pastors would have considered the ministerial dream. His suburban Dallas Northplace Church, with more than 2,400 worshippers filling pews on Sundays, had become a megachurch success story.

The church, and its locale of Sachse, Texas, both had far humbler origins. When founded in 1921, the then-fledgling congregation served a relative handful of mostly white and fervently Pentecostal parishioners in a town that wouldn’t top 300 souls until 1960 (today, the suburban bedroom community of Sache has a population of 25,000).

And Jarrett? While watching both congregation and community grow during more than 14 years as Northplace’s pastor, he says he never lost his country heart, having grown up in a small Arkansas farming hamlet.

So, in 2015 Jarrett and likeminded AG clergy and laypeople launched the Rural Matters initiative, dedicated to recognizing the plight and needs of small, struggling fellowships and their pastors who serve the nation’s thousands of small farming, ranching, mining, timber, and fishing communities.

The Rural Matters movement has since exploded in both vision, program entities, and participation. Through its Water Tower Leadership Network, Jarrett overseas hosting of “cohorts” of 20-25 rural ministers brought to the Dallas area every other month. Participants find help in a variety of areas, including financial assistance, bivocational job training, health insurance, investment planning, technical and leadership training, and staffing assistance.

While Jarrett still runs the cohorts for the movement’s seminal Water Tower Leadership Network (named as a nod to the landmark structures typical of so many rural communities), the wider Rural Matters umbrella itself has grown beyond the Assemblies of God to include various other, mostly evangelical, denominations.

“It’s truly become a national conversation, bringing rural ministry to the forefront,” Jarrett says. “We’ve been able to elevate the conversation to one of rural missiology, broadly written for the whole Church, not just my own denomination and brand — and this conversation about reaching rural churches and pastors is touching far more people than I ever imagined.”

Jarrett credits much of that metamorphosis to the support for the cause from author, church planter, researcher, and educator Edward Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church at Wheaton College. The Illinois institution now hosts the movement’s new associated Rural Matters Institute – inspired by Water Tower Leadership Network, but with a broader outreach that includes rural clergy who hail from Southern Baptist, Anglican, Lutheran, Vineyard, Church of God, and other backgrounds.

Through the long-running Rural Compassion U.S. Missions nonprofit, the Assemblies of God has long offered continuing education scholarships through its Global University, along with training, mentoring, and training to rural pastors. What became the Water Tower Leadership Network grew out of that, according to Jarrett, who sees the Wheaton-based Rural Matters programs — and rural ministry courses and degree programs now being offered at Wheaton, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and multiple other colleges and seminaries — as spiritual siblings.

Back in Texas, both the Water Tower Leadership Network and the ministerial outreach of Northplace — and of Jarrett and his wife, Haley, personally — have multiplied as well. The key: what Jarrett calls the miraculous 2015 acquisition of Lonesome Dove Ranch, about 20 miles northeast of Dallas.

The ranch not only hosts the network’s rural pastoral cohorts, but is offering a free bed-and-breakfast getaway for pastors and their families, along with “counseling and healing from burnout or heartbreak due to the unique challenges of small town and rural ministry,” Jarrett says.

Lonesome Dove also has taken on a new and expanding role as a refuge for up to 50 abused, neglected, or orphaned children a week. In cooperation with social service child protection agencies, the ranch helps, where deemed appropriate, to prepare its young charges for foster and permanent adoptive placements in Christian homes.

That latter mission is especially close to the 46-year-old Jarrett’s heart, and fuels his commitment to dedicating the “last half of my life to helping brokenhearted children, children who grew up like me, sexually exploited, or abused, neglected or abandoned,” he explains.

Financing for much of the purchase came from AG Financial and generous donations — including from the Jarretts personally — to underwrite operations at the charity formed to own the ranch. Jarrett — while still serving as Northplace senior pastor — is founder and director, and shares administrative duties with Haley.

“We are burning the candle at both ends at bit,” Jarrett acknowledges. “But this is an incredible opportunity. The joy is that our congregation got hold of the call of the rural mission field, and now a lot of kids also get to be adopted by people in the church.”

The ranch is staffed by more than 100 thoroughly vetted, though unpaid, volunteers, whose skill sets include cooks, groundskeepers, counselors, crafts and arts instructions, therapists, anglers, and yes, cowboys. After all, Lonesome Dove is a working ranch, complete with 10 therapy horses, a growing herd of donated cattle, bunkhouses, a rodeo arena, and a barn renovated to serve as a 250-seat chapel.

The Lonesome Dove and the Water Tower initiatives are valued, integral parts of the AG’s Rural America Ministries Network, along with the Fellowship’s Rural Compassion, Acts 2 Journey church revitalization initiative, the Church Multiplication Network, and other outreaches, according to RAM Director Wes R. Bartel.

“Both are excellent ministries and definitely are a blessing to rural churches, pastors, and families,” says Bartel, who founded RAM in 2017. “They are, in fact, indispensable resources for rural churches, and it is my hope to see more of our districts and churches involved in their ministry.”

Lonesome Dove, the Water Tower Leadership Network, and other RAM organization members are evidence of the AG’s growing commitment to small-town pastors and congregations for too long delegated to second-class status. AG pastor Karl Vaters has also become a small-church pundit across the nation.

“We need to inspire new rural pastors to see their ministry as a lifelong calling” instead of just a rung on the career ladder to pastoring ever larger congregations, Bartel says.

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — Feb. 8, 1930

When “Aunt” Fanny Lack, a 100-year-old Hoopa Indian woman, accepted Christ and was healed in 1920, she became a local sensation on the Hoopa Indian Reservation in northern California. She was among the earliest Native American Pentecostals, and was almost certainly the oldest. She became a faithful member of the Hoopa Assembly of God and shared her testimony wherever she went. Lack lived for at least nine more years, and during this time she received considerable attention by the press for her longevity and remarkable life story.

Aunt Fanny was revered among members of her tribe for her age, for being a link to their past, and for her Christian testimony. Pentecostals also identified her as one of their own, and her story was published in the Feb. 8, 1930, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Born in about 1820, Aunt Fanny recounted the sacred stories of her ancestors. She herself had lived longer than most everyone else. She remembered, as a girl, seeing the first white men come to her small village. She initially thought they were creatures sent from the Thunder Sky by the Great Spirit. Afterward, she witnessed white soldiers massacre many Native Americans in her village. She survived the massacre and forgave the white men who killed her people.

Sometime later, Aunt Fanny’s husband was hunting with a white man and saved him from being killed by a bear. He shot the bear through its heart with a flint-pointed arrow. The man, grateful for his life, gave a gun to Aunt Fanny’s husband. The gun made him the envy of others in the tribe. Aunt Fanny also learned to chew and smoke “pedro” tobacco from the white men. She became an addict.

Aunt Fanny accepted Christ under the ministry of a Mexican-American Pentecostal evangelist, A. C. Valdez, who visited her reservation in 1920. When she became a Christian at her advanced age, others in the tribe took notice. Before her conversion, she was badly stooped over and was partly paralyzed in her mouth and an arm. After she accepted Christ, she was healed and could stand straight and would regularly walk 8 to 10 miles each day. Numerous articles about Aunt Fanny appeared in newspapers across the United States throughout the 1920s. She shared her Christian testimony wherever she went, according to these press reports.

According to a lengthy 1925 article in the Times Standard newspaper published in Eureka, California, Aunt Fanny walked between five and eight miles to attend services at the Hoopa Pentecostal mission. The mission (now known as Hoopa Assembly of God) affiliated with the Assemblies of God in 1927. The article also noted that Aunt Fanny was able to overcome her tobacco addiction shortly after converting to Christ. The article reported: “Aunt Fanny . . . believes devoutly in healing, and attributes the fact that she is now able to stand straighter than in former years to Divine healing.”

J. D. Wells, an early Assemblies of God missionary to Native Americans, shared Aunt Fanny’s story with readers of the Feb. 8, 1930, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel. At the time, she was 109 years old and continued to present a strong Christian witness. He wrote, “Everyone on the reservation welcomes Fanny for a stay at their home, as they feel that God will bless their household while she is present, and this seems to be a truth.”

Read the article, “A Veteran Enters the Lord’s Army,” by J. D. Wells, on pages 10-11 of the Feb. 8, 1930, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Need of the Hour,” by Flem Van Meter

• “Divine Healing,” by J. N. Hoover

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

See also: “Aunt Fanny Lack: The Remarkable Conversion, Healing, and Ministry of a 100-Year-Old Hoopa Indian Woman,” by Matt Hufman and Darrin Rodgers, published in the 2015/2016 edition of Assemblies of God Heritage.

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

Source: AG News

AG Church Heavily Damaged by Fire

The First Assembly of God in Camdenton, Missouri, caught fire and experienced extensive damage Friday afternoon. Pastor Greg R. Mills says that the exterior of the church is still standing, but the interior was heavily damaged by fire, smoke, and water.

“It was determined that the fire broke out in the church’s basement and worked its way upstairs into the foyer then spread to the attic space above the sanctuary,” Mills says, who has been leading the Camdenton congregation with his wife, Amber, for five years. “The interior looks like a total loss, there was structural damage, and there’s nothing salvageable inside the church.”

The church potentially could have burned to the ground, but Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms and Chief Deputy Jimmy Brashear happened to be driving by and noticed heavy smoke coming from the church. Fire fighters arrived within four minutes of the officers’ 911 call.

Mills, who was supposed to attend the Super Bowl as his brother had purchased them tickets for the game, chose to remain in Camdenton over the weekend and had a remarkable service on Sunday.

“Last summer we sold fireworks for missions,” Mills says, “So, I called Danny Ferguson, pastor of Osceola First Assembly, and explained the situation with the fire and asked about the possibility of borrowing a tent for Sunday since the weather was predicted to be beautiful. Brother Ferguson simply said, ‘We will make this happen.’ They brought up the tent and together we set it up Saturday.”

What was remarkable about the service, Mills explains, is that throughout last year, the church averaged about 40 people on Sundays. But over the last month, people have been getting saved every Sunday, they’ve held three baptism services, and have another baptism service scheduled for Sunday. He’s seen attendance jump to 65 over the last month. On Sunday, meeting in a tent on the church property, there were 71 in attendance, with five people rededicating their lives to Christ.

“I had asked Pastor Matthew King to fill in for me this past Sunday since I would have been out of town,” Mills says. “Friday, Pastor Matthew came to the fire and shared with me the title of the message that he had already prepared — Rebuilding Solomon’s Temple. Even though I had already decided that I would be staying here for Sunday, I asked him to go ahead and speak since God had obviously given him a timely message for our church.”

Mills says that the church and individuals lost their instruments in the fire, but that the lake community and Southern Missouri district office has been incredible in its outpouring of concern, support, and encouragement. Currently, the church has already secured a regular meeting place for Wednesday evening services and children’s activities as well as for the ladies’ Bible study. They are still working on a place to meet on Sundays.

“It will be at least six months, if not more, before we can meet back in our own building,” Mills says. “We’re kind of at the insurance’s mercy right now.”

The fire did not appear to be suspicious, but is being investigated by district and state fire marshals to determine the cause.

Source: AG News

The Prodigal’s Healing

Deborah Kovach wanted to honor the request of her father, Robert Ray Stewart, to sit with him at the 40th anniversary banquet of Teen Challenge of Arizona. Stewart and his wife, Violet Sue, founded the drug and alcohol rehabilitation ministry chapter in 1965.

More than 300 people had gathered in a banquet hall in 2005 to mark the occasion and to fete Stewart. Kovach arrived, but headed straight for the women’s restroom. She closed a toilet stall door, pulled out a bag of methamphetamines and a pipe, and proceeded to smoke.

Kovach, then 43, felt she needed the meth high before the evening’s festivities began.

Unknown to her parents, Kovach had spent most of her adult life as a “functional addict,” holding down a full-time job as a construction company office worker, despite daily illegal drug use.

“Meth was my drug of choice and I always carried it with me,” Kovach recalls. “I did it every morning before my feet hit the floor.”

In addition to having no idea of the depths of their daughter’s addiction, Kovach’s parents didn’t realize other secrets she had been harboring: trauma over her parents’ divorce; sexual molestation by a girlfriend’s father that began at 10 and lasted five years; and a sexually promiscuous lifestyle that led to seven abortions beginning at age 16.

The troubles started at age 5 when Robert and Sue divorced. Deb’s 9-year-old brother, Terry, went to live with his father. Sue remarried another minister, Bill Gaddis, two years later. The family breakup and reconfiguration left Deb confused.

“I thought I’d done something wrong,” she says. “I felt lonely and ashamed.”

By 14, Deb began using drugs and sex to numb the pain. She married and gave birth to her daughter, Shalynn, at 18. Kovach visited her husband in prison and agreed to smuggle drugs inside for him and his white supremacist friends.

The marriage lasted only three years, with her husband incarcerated most of that time. By 22, she had divorced a second time.

The addiction continued for another two decades, up to the Teen Challenge banquet. That evening, Kovach heard testimony after testimony of how her father had helped others turn their lives around after quitting drugs. As Kovach went home, the irony of how empty her life had become in comparison stared her in the face. She uttered a simple prayer before going to sleep: God, I want to quit this lifestyle, but I can’t do it on my own. I need your help.

“I woke up the next morning delivered, and I haven’t touched drugs since,” says Kovach, who notes that God quickly sent confirmation.

That next day she went to breakfast at an unfamiliar diner on the road. The owner came to her table, grabbed her hands, and gazed into her eyes, declaring: You have made a recent change in your life. You are going in the right direction. Keep going. Kovach never saw the woman before — or since.

With a handful of other new Christians, Kovach began publishing an Overcomers for Christ newsletter for inmates, letting them know God is real and permanent change is possible on the outside. One of the inmates who read the newsletter was Tracy Kovach. He later met Deb at a Teen Challenge function.

Tracy had his own dysfunctional childhood, drug addiction, and incarceration to contend with before he accepted Jesus as Savior. Tracy and Deb have been married nine years, soon after Tracy gained sobriety at the Greater Phoenix Teen Challenge. Teen Challenge is a department of U.S. Missions.

“If we would have known each other before we got saved and clean, there is no way we would be together,” says Deb, now 57. “God makes it work because He is in the middle of our marriage.”

Deb works as the training and learning manager in the quality and compliance department of RI International, a nonprofit that helps the seriously mentally ill and substance abusers.

Deb’s mom, Sue Gaddis, operated a home for struggling women for 19 years called Cabrini House, where everyone from single mothers to the developmentally disabled lived.

“I was helping other women, sowing seeds for Debbie, believing someday she would come to the Lord and turn it around,” says Gaddis, 77. She periodically watched Deb’s daughter, Shalynn Evans, during the girl’s formative years in hopes that Deb would get her life together. Shalynn has been married for 16 years and has four children.

Gaddis is appreciative that Deb didn’t let her drug friends know where her mother lived.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but she was running with some really bad people,” says Gaddis, who lives in the northwest Phoenix suburb of Peoria. “When she stayed away, my prayers increased. I knew she was protecting me.”

Gaddis considers Tracy a godsend.

“I’m so thrilled at what God has done in Debbie’s life,” Gaddis says. “I prayed for it, but I’m still flabbergasted how God answered the prayer.”

Snow Peabody, executive director of Teen Challenge of Arizona the past 43 years, now oversees the ministry that has grown to five residential recovery centers with 230 bed spaces for those seeking help.

“It is my joy to honor Tracy and Debroah Kovach as friends of the ministry that Debroah’s father founded whenever I can,” Peabody says.

Photo: Deb Kovach (right) has reconciled with her mother, Sue Gaddis, (center) and daughter, Shalynn Evans (left).

Source: AG News

Miraculous Promise

Fear grasped at Doyle and Donna Medlock’s faith. Despite being surrounded by people who loved and cared about them, no words of comfort or presence of person seemed to be able to set the fear and apprehension aside. A malignant brain tumor tends to do that.

But the most unexpected of experiences took place just hours before the surgery began, when a prayer meeting broke out and God showed up in a Little Rock, Arkansas, Red Lobster restaurant.

PRAYER CHANGES THINGS

“It was Jan. 19, 2016, and 19 of us (from The Link Church in Fernwood) traveled to Little Rock as I was scheduled for surgery the next morning,” Doyle says. “They asked where I wanted to go out to eat, and I chose Red Lobster because I had received a gift card for there.”

That seemingly random decision, proved to be not so random as God had everything lined up.

“They put us in the dead center of the restaurant, pushing a whole bunch of tables together,” recalls Doyle, who was 50 at the time. “A waitress asked if we were here celebrating a special occasion. I told her we were here because I was having brain surgery tomorrow.”

The waitress then surprised Doyle. She asked if he’d mind if they prayed for him after a while. Thinking she meant they would “remember him” in prayer, Doyle agreed — marking it down as a nice gesture.

As their meal drew to a close, Doyle was shocked when it seemed the entire wait staff came out — they all wanted to really pray for him. Joining hands with the Medlock’s friends, they encircled the couple. After a few moments of quiet prayer, the waitress who had originally asked to pray for Doyle, led out in an unashamed and powerful prayer that the Medlocks — and no one present — will ever forget it. Yet, even though the compassionate outpouring of prayer was so unexpected, it was the Spirit’s response that filled the room with wonder.

“It got to the point, it was so thick in there with God’s presence . . . ,” Doyle says, pausing. “For a time, I thought it was a dream or that we were all in an empty parking lot and the people I was seeing were angels — I even asked them if they were.”

Lauren Brasel, who was a high school sophomore at the time, was there with her parents and recalls the evening vividly.

“It was almost like a fog of peace, and it was like every weight in the building was lifted off of our shoulders,” she says in a video message. “We knew that God was in control in that moment, we knew that He was going to take care of him (Doyle) . . . I mean, I’ve never felt anything like it . . . we were all crying, but it wasn’t because we were scared, it was because we knew that God is God and He is in control.”

The Medlocks recall people in booths, not a part of their group, had stopped eating to join in the prayer, and as the left, restaurant patrons were stopping Doyle, telling him that he was going to be okay — that God would take care of him.

“I was bawling my eyes out,” Doyle admits. “When the wait staff prayed, I felt the Spirit out in a public place like I have only before felt in church when the Spirit moves . . . it was like all of a sudden the glory of God invades a Red Lobster — it was pretty cool.”

Donna was changed by the experience as well.

“I was so bothered by the tumor — I was very scared,” she says. “But that experience brought the most amazing peace in to all of us. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever felt as a Christian. It was just awesome.”

THE ROAD TO THE MIRACULOUS

Although the Medlocks were prepared to learn that God had totally removed the tumor, that was not result. After 2 ½ hours of surgery, the neurosurgeon reported that he had removed as much of the tumor as he could without potentially leaving Doyle paralyzed. He explained that about 45% to 50% of the tumor had entered the brain tissue and was like (as Doyle describes) as if cheese and butter had melted together — impossible to remove the tumor without severely damaging the brain.

Yet, Donna says, that even getting this far was a miracle in itself.

“We had decided to get healthy, so we joined a gym earlier in the year,” she says. “But when Doyle tried to run on the treadmill, it was ‘run, thud, run, thud’ as his one foot didn’t seem to be working right, and the one leg seemed smaller than the other.”

The first doctor they visited felt the issue was due to problem in Doyle’s back and sent him to rehab, which produced no results. He was then slated to see a neurologist, but that was a two-month wait, so Doyle decided to visit a Christian chiropractor as they waited.

Donna recalls the chiropractor examining Doyle and how he took Doyle by the hand apparently to check a response, and then let Doyle’s hand fall.

“He told Doyle that his problem didn’t have anything to do with skeletal issues and that he needed to see a neurologist today.”

The chiropractor was able to get Doyle into a neurologist in just two weeks, where eventually they learned Doyle had the brain tumor. However, the neurosurgeon who performed the surgery, Dr. Ali Krisht, is considered one of the best neurosurgeons in the world when it comes to brain tumors.

“God was in this from the start,” Donna says, “from us joining the gym, to seeing the doctor, to seeing the chiropractor, getting in to see a neurologist so quickly, and then having Dr. Krisht be our neurosurgeon.”

TELLTALE MIRACLE

Although instantaneous healings are typically what most people seek, in this case Doyle and Donna felt God’s peace in a way that gave them a confidence in His provision no matter how or when healing took place.

Donna knew shortly after the surgery that God’s hand had been on Doyle. He was one of six individuals to have brain surgery that morning.

“As I walked by the rooms of the others who had brain surgery, they were all hooked up to all kinds of machines and breathing tubes and all these bells and whistles going off everywhere,” Donna says. “I was just praying that God would help me be strong when I got to Doyle’s room.”

When she entered the room, Doyle was already conscious and alert with what looked like a few adhesive bandages on his head.

“Is David (Willis, The Link Church lead pastor) out there?” he asked her. “I saw a Five Guys down the road. Tell him to get me a burger, because I’m starving to death.”

GOD’S CONTINUING WORK

Although Doyle basically walked out of the hospital, he still faced three months of radiation and a full year of chemotherapy. He doesn’t candy-coat it — it was a very difficult time.

“But he never missed work, until the last couple of months, because the chemo would make him so sick — he would miss one day (following chemo),” Donna says.

Yet despite the struggle, the Medlocks believed that God was at work in Doyle’s body.

“I couldn’t stand on my tip-toes and I had to think out every step in order to make my foot work properly,” Doyle says. “The neurologist told me I would never be able to do either of those things because the location of the tumor had broken that pathway in my brain and those pathways don’t repair themselves.”

Following the conclusion of chemo, the Medlocks began to notice improvements in Doyle’s physical energy and abilities. Doyle was determined to one day stand on his tiptoes, though initially he wasn’t making much progress. At each check-up, the news from the neurologist was the same: tumor looks the same, it hasn’t grown, and the scar tissue is the same. This report continued for the next three years.

But between the second and third year, Doyle walked into the neurologist office and said, “Look,” as his stood on his tiptoes. The neurologist was stunned, asking him to do it again. Then he asked him to walk out of the room and back again – which Doyle performed with carefree ease.

“The doctor told me to wait a moment, he had to get his phone to video what I was doing,” Doyle recalls. “He said, ‘You don’t know and understand . . . you’re defying all odds doing this! Your path was broken, it just doesn’t fix itself…’ I told him I did understand, but that I had a pathway to the One that can fix it. He just kind of laughed, but he knew what I was talking about.”

PRAYERS ANSWERED

Bit by bit, day by day, Doyle continued his recovery. His appointments with the neurologist also continued. But even though he could stand on his tiptoes and walk normally without thought, the report on the tumor remained the same — hasn’t grown, scar tissue evident.

“From the time the wait staff prayed for me at Red Lobster, I knew that whatever God had for me, I knew it was going to be fixed,” Doyle says. “I knew He was going to do it, but do it in His timing.”

On Jan. 24, four years and four days after the original surgery, the doctor, per routine, returned to the room to discuss Doyle’s latest scan results.

“I asked him what the percentage was of the tumor to ever start growing again,” Doyle says. “He told me he didn’t know, but what he did know was that he could no longer see the tumor, the scarring from radiation was gone, and all that was left was a hole where the tumor was!”

There was no explanation — it was just gone! A huge weight was lifted off Doyle and Donna’s shoulders as the realization of God’s answer to prayer was fulfilled and joy swept through their hearts.

The news of Doyle’s healing was received with applause and shouts of praise at that Sunday’s church service.

PREPARED TO MINISTER

Currently, there are two people also attending The Link Church in Fernwood who are dealing with brain and nasal tumors. Doyle says that his journey was not a fun, but it has been a rewarding one and he’s ready to do whatever needs to be done to help those going through difficult challenges like he’s experienced.

“I asked God to give me a front row seat to my life, understanding that I may have to go through battles and go through a lot of things,” Doyle says, “but that I would be able to watch my life’s journeys through this, and see how God was working in me, so that I could use it for His glory.”
Source: AG News

Buddy Brigade

Thousands of neighbors in metro Detroit knew Buddy, the affable chocolate Labrador retriever who loved to walk. Nearly daily for 12 years, John Karakian obliged, regardless of the weather, typically six hours a day.

After Buddy died March 11 last year, Karakian handled his grief by hand-delivering a notice of his dog’s death with pictures of himself and Buddy in his best yellow raincoat to homes on their walking route through the culturally diverse Novi, Walled Lake, and Wixom communities. He stapled two tickets to his Assemblies of God church’s Easter production to each note.

To Karakian’s surprise, many responded to his invitation with emails, text messages, and phone calls. Around 60 sympathy cards came in the mail. Memorials to the beloved Buddy showed up in front of Karakian’s house.

A police officer who hadn’t seen Karakian out walking showed up at his house to check on his well-being. Karakian explained that his dog died.

“Do you think he’s in heaven?” Karakian asked the officer. “Next thing you know, we’re talking about Jesus.”

That’s how hundreds of conversations unfolded in the wake of Buddy’s death. He invited all with whom he engaged in conversation to church.

When Karakian, 66, stood at the door of Brightmoor Christian Church as people came to the Easter production, he didn’t believe anyone he invited would show up. Soon, however, he saw faces he recognized from more than a decade of walks with his chocolate Lab. From spiritual conversations he’d had with them, he knew their faiths: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, atheistic. He also saw Christian women with non-Christian husbands. Karakian lost count at 60 of his walking contacts.

Many told him the same thing: We’re here for Buddy.

While Karakian thought his work had finished, the morning after the Easter performance he says he heard a voice inside speaking: You’re not done yet. Keep sending those letters out.

At first, Karakian resisted the call.

I can’t be walking around telling everybody my dog died, he recalls telling the Lord. They’re going to think I need a psychiatrist.

But he says the Holy Spirit persisted with the message: You do the walking, and I’ll do the talking.

Now without his beloved Buddy, for seven months he kept walking the route, hand-delivering more custom-made Buddy cards. Ultimately he visited 2,200 homes, his credit union, the UPS store that printed the cards, his doctors and their nurses. He struck up spiritual conversations. He invited people to the Brightmoor Christmas production. And he prayed.

Buddy cards went to Maria’s Deli, where a framed picture of Buddy (Maria’s number one customer, according to Karakian) had long held a place of honor because the dog loved the eatery’s lasagna.

“People come in and see that picture and say, I know that dog, I see that guy,” Karakian says. Maria, concerned about Karakian’s loss triggering a wave of grief, took down the picture for a time. Karakian gave her tickets to the church program, too.

As word spread about Buddy’s demise, people kept approaching him with condolences. Many he didn’t recognize, but for years Karakian and his chocolate lab had been community institutions.

Karakian distributed 400 “Buddy tickets” to the church’s Christmas program. On the night of the performance, he couldn’t see everybody who entered the megachurch that seats more than 2,100; he lost count somewhere over 200 from the “Buddy Brigade” who showed up. As with the Easter production, the Christmas show presented the gospel.

More than a month after the Christmas production, Karakian received reports of its impact. Some invitees unable to attend gave their tickets to others who came. A woman he didn’t know showed up at his house with a cake, thanking him. Because of a Buddy card and a conversation Karakian had with her husband, her husband and son went to church.

“If Buddy didn’t pass away, none of this would have happened,” Karakian says, noting that he just needed a dog, a leash and “my two feet” to proclaim the gospel. He cites John 4:35 — the fields are ready for harvest.

In all, Karakian visited 2,200 homes, and no one turned him away when he started talking about the need for Jesus as Savior.

“I said, Hey my dog died, then it was all ears,” Karakian says. “It’s the wonders of the Lord.”

Robb Stancer, Brightmoor’s creative arts pastor, describes Buddy as a “four-legged friend that could melt your heart with compassion and help you open your eyes to something greater.”

“They say they came because of the dog, but I think it’s John’s genuine love and care for the individual,” Stancer says. “This little dog bridged a gap between race, religion, culture, and person because they loved Buddy. In many ways, John was just being Christ’s hands extended.”

Stancer points to the principles of sowing and reaping.

“In some of those people who came for the Buddy Brigade and others who attended, we planted a seed,” Stancer says. “With others, we watered that seed, and with others we harvested.”

Karakian, Stancer says, had a burden to reach those who had been so kind to him and Buddy.

“Out of that birthing, God has used this simple act of obedience,” Stancer says. “He was obedient to God, and God honored that.”

Source: AG News

The Grid Church Sees 150 People Accept Christ

With over 2.7 million people calling the Windy City home, Chicago, Illinois, is considered one of the most densely populated U.S. cities. The Grid church plant, launched in January 2019, is located in a Chicago neighborhood that extends for two miles and houses 80,000 people. The church meets for Sunday service in The Dank House in Lincoln Square.

Just as with many metropolitan communities, the need is great in this Chicago neighborhood for people to hear the gospel and be presented with opportunities to accept Christ. Pastors David and Brittanica Womelsdorf are called to help meet that need through The Grid Church.

“Although Chicago is one of the most liberal, post-Christian cities in America, we’ve found that people are hungry for truth,” David says. “We preach the Word of God and we’re seeing miracles take place. The mission of The Grid is to bring life to the city one neighborhood at a time. We understand that may take generations to complete, but it’s our mission.”

The Grid Church is passionate about serving the community in creative and tangible ways by holding frequent outreaches. They host a monthly “I Love My City” service project; the current project is a coat drive for the homeless population in Chicago, who are often forgotten and overlooked.

During the past year, the Womelsdorfs have seen hope and transformation occur at a rapid pace in people’s lives. The young congregation has seen 150-plus salvations, and is growing to the point of needing to move to a larger venue by the end of 2020.

In addition to planting The Grid Church, David Womelsdorf has qualified and competed on seasons 10 and 11 of American Ninja Warrior and has submitted to compete in season 12. He says, “Participating in American Ninja Warrior has offered a unique, awesome opportunity that we never imagined becoming a reality, and we can see that God is using it to influence people and grow His church.”

Through the AGTrust Matching Funds, in partnership with The Church Multiplication Network, a total of 545 church plants across America are reaching people for Christ today.

“Thank you, AGTrust, for the Matching Funds to assist with our church plant,” David states. “Without your financial investment and the support of Church Multiplication Network, The Grid wouldn’t exist.”
Source: AG News

Mental Health Advocate

Chicago-born Brittany Charise Jones moved around a lot as a child, in large part because of the drug addiction of her parents. The body of her 30-year-old father, Brian Jackson, killed in drug-related violence, remained buried in snow and undetected for four months. Brittany, the middle of five children, was 3 years old at the time.

Subsequently, money grew even scarcer in the home. Her mother, Gwenn lacked a support system that might have helped her emerge from the difficulty of raising five children as a single mom in a poverty-stricken urban neighborhood.

The family moved to Hammond, Indiana, but between her mother’s increasing drug use and working odd jobs, Brittany lacked adult supervision.

A succession of her mother’s boyfriends paraded through the house until her mother moved in with one of them. This boyfriend began sexually abusing Brittany at the age of 5. Half a dozen of her mother’s boyfriends and other family friends sexually abused Brittany over the next decade.

“They had easy access and told me to keep my mouth shut,” recalls Brittany, now 34. “I had no power; I couldn’t fight back.”

Brittany had little hope of escaping hell on earth until the family moved across the street from Hammond First Assembly of God, now known as The Gate.

Initially drawn by a two-hour daily after-school program that offered free snacks, homework help, and playtime, Brittany also heard about Jesus for the first time. Soon, at the age of 10, she surrendered her life to Him. Brittany went on trips with families from the church, including lead pastor J.A. Calaway and his wife, Vicki, as well as executive pastor Scott Wells and his wife, Debbie, the children’s pastor in charge of the after-school club.

While the church offered a temporary haven, the abuse of Brittany at home persisted.

“But I knew God was near,” Brittany remembers. “I knew I wasn’t walking alone. The church gave me courage to speak up.”

Finally, at the age of 15, Brittany confided in Debbie about the instability and danger she faced away from church.

Brittany’s mom, long oblivious to the assaults, finally began to piece things together. She consented to Brittany moving in with the Wells family for her own safety.

“We just wanted her in a safe place,” recalls Debbie Wells.

Brittany lived with Scott and Debbie for a year, when they enrolled her in a Christian school. Although she later returned to her mom, then another concerned family, and also her grandmother Geneva Davis, the Wellses continued to ensure that she received a Christian education until she graduated from high school.

At 19, she secured a full-time position as school monitor at the Teen Challenge center for adolescent girls in Lebanon, Indiana. A year later, she moved to Orlando, Florida, to attend Faith Christian University, where she graduated with an associate’s degree in Bible and theology.

<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/188927076“class=ArticleVideo” frameborder=”0″ allow=”autoplay; fullscreen” allowfullscreen>

Brittany Jones Story FINAL from Motivation Church on Vimeo.

In 2009, Brittany married Travis Jones, who had graduated from Southeastern University, the Assemblies of God school in Lakeland, Florida. Two years later, the couple became youth pastors at Cornerstone Assembly of God in North Chesterfield, Virginia.

With help from the AG’s Church Multiplication Network, the Joneses launched Motivation Church in North Chesterfield in 2016 as a Matching Fund church.

“CMN gave us all the tools we needed to plant a life-giving church,” Brittany says. Travis, 33, is pastor, while Brittany leads worship and also does some teaching at the multiethnic church.

Motivation Church is in a parent-affiliate relationship with Cornerstone Assembly of God, located in the southern Richmond suburb.

NEW MOTIVATION
Motivation Church has become a healing center for many attendees, in part because Jones has been transparent about her past trauma and current struggles. She went through a lengthy depression before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Jones takes medication, sees a counselor and psychiatrist regularly, and stays accountable to others in her life to deal with the illness.

“I believe God can absolutely heal me of bipolar disorder,” Jones says. “But what is real right now is I have bipolar disorder and I need to live with it.”

Rather than isolate, Brittany has shared her bipolar reality with small groups and support groups at church — as well as at chapel services recently at the AG national office and the AG’s Evangel University, both in Springfield, Missouri.

“It’s OK to be vulnerable at church and say I’m not OK,” says Brittany, who in person appears cheerful, poised, and astute. “A person can have mental struggles and still be called by God and walk in His purposes.”

Brittany’s testimony impressed AG General Superintendent Doug Clay, who notes that some touches from God are progressive rather than instantaneous.

“Our past and our failures don’t have to define us,” Clay says. “The Church needs the spirit of authenticity. It’s not a place for façade.”

Rather than becoming a statistic of a life gone wrong, Jones with her husband now has two daughters, Jaylynn, 9, and Jayda, 6. After years of prayer from Jones, her mother, Gwenn Jackson, accepted Jesus as Savior eight years ago. Jackson, 56, now is a part of Motivation Church. She is the church’s Dream Team host and serves volunteers breakfast every week.

“We’re so proud of Brittany,” says the 45-year-old Wells, who subsequently opened her home to four other girls with troubled lives for long-term stays and now has three children of her own. “Brittany is the reason you don’t give up. Even when circumstances look hopeless, God is still able to redeem.”

[PhotoGallery path = “/sitecore/Media Library/PENews/Photo Galleries/Brittanys Wedding”]

Top Photo: Brittany speaking.
Bottom Photo: Scott Wells (left) and his wife, Debbie (right), attended Brittany’s 2009 wedding. 

Source: AG News

Million-Dollar Grant

Vanguard University, the Assemblies of God school in Costa Mesa, California, has received a $1 million grant to expand its efforts to support thriving Hispanic congregations. Lilly Endowment awarded the funds in support of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership program.

This is the first private grant the university has received with a focus on Hispanic congregational needs, as well as the first in partnership with congregations. The funding from the Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation will enable Vanguard to increase its ministry efforts to local Hispanic congregations through education, training, and community partnerships. Monies will be disbursed over five years through the end of December 2024.

AG Executive Presbyter Daniel de León says the majority of Hispanic congregations in Orange County, where Vanguard is located, need leadership due to a lack of well-equipped and trained pastors.

Vanguard has been working to tackle the problem by providing students who are called to ministry with the education and resources to become community leaders, according to de León, a Vanguard alumus.

Miranda, who died last year, founded the institute that bears his name. His son Jack is carrying on the legacy as executive director.

“It was Dr. Miranda’s vision to create opportunities for Hispanic students in Orange County,” says Jon Albaugh, dean of missional effectiveness at Vanguard University, which is commemorating its centennial this year. “Vanguard is honored to be part of this initiative to increase the number of thriving Hispanic congregations and educate and empower students to also share in this movement.”

In addition to the Southern Pacific District (the AG’s Hispanic district in the southern portion of the Golden State), the AG SoCal Network also has been working to increase effectiveness among ethnic minority churches.

In 2017, Vanguard University received a $3.75 million grant, the largest in school history, to both increase retention and graduation rates among Hispanic and low-income transfer students as well as to develop partnerships with local community colleges to enhance transfer rates.

Photo: The late Jesse Miranda Jr. converses with Hispanic students on the Vanguard University campus.

Source: AG News

Multiple Assistance

With so much uncertainty surrounding events in the Middle East, Alex and Samia Hanna offer an outlet for Christian support through various ministries, including overseas trips, an international Arabic TV channel, and a 24-hour phone hotline. By leading prayer requests remotely and abroad, Alex Hanna, 62, witnesses conversions to Christ, often inspired through miracles.

He notes that on a ministry trip in November, one woman received healing from breast cancer and another from leukemia.

The Hannas immigrated from Egypt to the United States in 1990 with their twin daughters. Leaving a medical degree behind in Egypt, Alex moved to Oklahoma in 1998 and both he and his wife became credentialed Assemblies of God ministers. They’ve lived in California since 2014 and have been helping refugees in recent years.

As vice president of the Arabic Assemblies of God Fellowship, Hanna has worked to raise the profile of the ethnic group since 2006. With the goal of planting new churches among Arabs in the U.S., Hanna recently participated in the opening of Arabic AG churches in Fountain Valley, California; Portland, Oregon; Corona, California; and Chicago. Overall, AAGF has established 15 Arabic churches in the U.S.

Hanna, a U.S. missionary serving with Intercultural Ministries, is involved in helping to bring ministers from the Middle East to the U.S. Once in this country, they are assisted in becoming credentialed ministers.

Samia, 56, also works with nonprofit organizations that help refugees by sending them clothes, food, and other supplies. In the Middle East, Samia also works with organizations that help rehabilitate women who have been freed after abduction by Islamic extremists. The women learn English, study other subjects, and are assimilated back to normal life.

When Samia, who trained as a dentist, is not overseas or helping her husband, she works with the women’s ministries in her area by taking phone calls, holding prayer sessions, and teaching seminars covering specific topics.

Most of the Hannas’ time goes into their work with AlKarmaTV, a free satellite Arabic Christian channel based in Seal Beach, California. Weekly broadcasts can reach 98 percent of the globe. The program also takes phone calls and leads group prayer sessions through live segments.

As founders of the nonprofit organization the Gospel to All People Outreach, the Hannas support widows of AG pastors in Egypt, as well as refugees in the U.S. and the Middle East.
Source: AG News