AG Church Gifted Building — Times Two<br />

When Josh and Gina Kennedy wanted to start holding a Bible study about seven years ago, they just wanted a place to study Scripture and build relationships. Josh began the search for a place to meet and before he knew it, he was the pastor of a new church plant.

Sheridan is a small town about 30 miles north of Indianapolis with a population of less than 3,000, which means there aren’t a lot of places available to rent to conduct a church service. However, a store front church closed its doors and the owner of the building offered the fledgling Issachar Church the space to meet in at no charge for a few months to see if it fit their needs.

That was the first of many miracles to come.

“I started getting calls from different pastors,” Josh Kennedy recalls. “They’d ask me, ‘What are you doing?’ because I was in prayer and God told me to give you . . .” The church was gifted its chairs, soundboard, and other ministry supplies as God led area ministers to help the new church.

The name of the church, Issachar, Gina explains, comes from 1 Chronicles 12:32, which says the tribe of Issachar knew the days they lived in and knew what must be done.

In what some might call a foreshadowing of things to come, the Kennedys, who are both 42, says the church’s first outreach was held from midnight to 2 a.m. in front of a local bar, where they served pancakes and coffee to patrons as they left. 

As time passed, the small church of about 15 grew to about 45 people, but they were having to move from place to place, and each relocation seemed to peel away a few people from the church, while new faces began to arrive. The unsettled nature of the constant relocating led Josh and Gina to look for a permanent home for the church. 

Purchasing a permanent location was a great idea that had the support of church members, but lacked two key ingredients: money and available buildings. 

As the Kennedys searched, the bar that the church had held its first outreach outside of kept drawing them back. It had been closed for about three years now and was for sale, but the owner wanted $120,000 — it may as well have been $1 million as the church didn’t have that kind of cash.

“The building was in horrible shape,” Josh says, who is bi-vocational. “The city was on the verge of condemning it.” 

Over a period of six months, Josh would meet with the owner several times, explaining how the church would also benefit the community financially as it was already helping people write resumes and do well in job interviews — only it would expand those ministries.  

The owner lowered the price to $70,000, but it was still out of range. Finally, after fasting and prayer and upon the advice of their mentor, Cecil Adams, senior pastor of First Assembly of God, Killeen, Texas, the Kennedys decided to simply ask the owner to give them the building outright.  

When Josh arrived and shared how he had been trying to raise the money to buy the building, but the grants and other avenues kept falling through, the owner surprised him. He said the day before his accountant had recommended he just give the building to him. “I ended up signing a few papers and left with a building in my pocket,” he says, disbelief still tinging his voice.

The church began the renovation of the late-1800s, 8,000-square-foot building in August 2016 — reroofing it and removing 18 40-yard dumpsters of debris and trash from the facility. The plan is to have the facility totally renovated by this time next year.

Adams says that the Kennedys are very innovative and creative, and did a terrific job serving as the children’s pastors at First Assembly for a number of years. “He comes back and preaches about once a year,” Adams says. “So, as the church board knows them so well, when we sold our old building, we paid a tithe of that to Issachar Church to help them with their renovations.”

Then, in June, a leader from the local Quaker church approached Gina. The church wanted to sell them their building. 

“It was a well-maintained church and seats about 200 people,” Gina says, “but it was still a classic 1880s building and really wouldn’t meet our needs or vision for impacting our community.” 

Then came the asking price.  

One dollar.

At first, the Kennedys were confused. What was God doing? The Quaker church was move-in ready, but wasn’t what the church or community needed and their church didn’t need to move locations yet again; the former bar was well into the renovation process and was in the ideal location, but wouldn’t be ready for a year.

But God knew what was coming. 

“Three days later, I received a call from the Internal Revenue Service,” Josh says. “The location we had been renting for the church, apparently the owner owed back taxes and the property was being seized and sold. We had two weeks to remove all of our stuff.” 

Issachar Church has been meeting at the new “$1 location” since July and the Kennedys still marvel at God’s provision. “Two buildings were given to us in less than a year, what a phenomenal experience!” Josh says.  

“I believe in Josh and Gina Kennedy,” states Don Gifford, Indiana district superintendent. “Josh is a man of integrity and hard work and God has shown them favor.”

A lot of things have changed in the community since Issachar Church began meeting and praying. Alcoholism is a big challenge in the community. Issachar Church identified this and immediately started a prayer team that goes to specific areas and “Prays on site with Insight” and God doing the rest. 

“The bar that we’re renovating was a pretty shady place,” Josh admits with a bit of a laugh. “I met a guy while I was prayer walking the neighborhood and he knew of the place. He told me, ‘Yeah, I stabbed a guy there once . . . , I’ll have to come see you guys.’” 

Progress on the renovation continues to be made. The church has a $60,000 new roof, the interior has been stripped to a shell, plumbing and HVAC systems are being added, and Josh says they are less than $40,000 from completing the renovation.

But for now, the Kennedys and the congregation of Issachar Church are focused on taking things a step at a time as God provides for the renovation and meeting the needs of their community, spiritually and financially. Gina explains that the church invests a lot of time in helping people find and get jobs, and that in spring, they will also start offering financial stewardship classes.  

“We’ve basically been living out of a suitcase [as a church],” Josh says. “Now we have a place that is our own and it will enable us to do better and more effective outreach.”

Source: AG News

The Kickstarter Gospel

When Jordan Donaldson, 26, Giancarlo Ospina, 26, and Jesse Tyler, 23 — all born and raised in the Assemblies of God — launched their collaborative Kickstarter campaign, “Manuscripts,” at noon on Oct. 24, they had no idea their $12,000 project would be fully funded within a mere five hours.

“When we saw that we were 100 percent funded by 5 p.m., we were incredibly surprised,” Donaldson says. “We realized how blessed we were, and we were so encouraged to see people excited about reading Scripture.”

“Manuscripts” is a project that aims to make reading Scripture less overwhelming for a novice, by printing books of the Bible in pocket-sized, easy-to-read volumes.

“The Bible can be daunting,” Donaldson says. “It is good and it can speak for itself, but, as a whole, it can be intimidating for someone to open up.”

The idea originally came to Ospina while sitting in a Bible class at Missouri State University. Ospina says that as he grasped that individual authors wrote Scripture as separate books, he became convinced that’s the way it could be presented to modern readers.

“We have the Bible on our phones but, I thought how cool would it be to read it in its ‘original’ form,” Ospina recalls. “It seemed like it would be a normal thing to do.”

Donaldson, Tyler, and Ospina were roommates and attendees of James River College in Ozark, Missouri.

Tyler says when verse numbers are removed, each book can be read as a unique story. Additionally, by printing each book separately, production quality increases with use of a larger font and thicker pages.

“The Bible now looks like something you’ve read before,” Tyler says. This familiarity is what the three hope will encourage a broader audience to engage in Scripture.  

Tyler says that even though he grew up attending Calvary Lighthouse in Lakewood, New Jersey, once on his own and in a different community, he began to wonder what he really knew about the Bible beyond what he had heard from the pulpit.

“I came back to the Bible,” Tyler says. “Bible reading has got to be step 1. It is the thing you can go to and trust, no matter where you have been in life.”

Donaldson, who now lives in New York City and attends Living Waters Fellowship, says the goal of the project is to deliver Scripture in a contemporary and casual manner. The overarching objective, he says, is for the books to be read. Donaldson says that the team designed the layout be user friendly.

“Put it in your pocket, let it get a little roughed up,” Donaldson says. “Bend the pages where you’ve left off. That’s what it is made for.”

Donaldson, Ospina, and Tyler have received tremendous support for their project both on and off of their Kickstarter site. The trio say they have received multiple comments from unchurched and non-Christian individuals who promise to read the books.

The team agrees that the long-term goals of the project include printing every book in the Bible in “collections.”

“Think ‘The Pentateuch’, ‘Letters of Paul,’, or ‘Minor Prophets,’ Ospina says. Additionally, the team hopes that as the project expands, they will be able to bring production costs down so that churches can receive copies of certain books, particularly the Gospel of John, to give to first-time attendees.

Assemblies of God General Superintendent Doug E. Clay thinks the strategy is both smart and needed.

“It excites me to see this project emerging, because I believe in instilling a core value of biblical literacy among the next generation of Assemblies of God adherents,” Clay says. “What an incredible way to get Scripture in the hands of the next generation!”

Source: AG News

SEU Announces First Ph.D. Program<br />

Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, has announced two new doctoral programs —  a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership and a Doctorate of Strategic Leadership (DSL), bringing the total number of doctoral degrees SEU offers up to four (the Ed.D. began in 2014 and the D.Min. in 2016). This is the first Ph.D. program for the university. The inaugural cohort for the Ph.D. and DSL degrees will begin classes in May of 2018, with a five-day intensive for students.

“The program was started to provide doctoral-level Christian education in leadership studies,” said Dr. Ric Rohm, the program’s coordinator. The program is geared to prospective students who desire the highest levels of leadership education.

“We are extremely proud of this milestone accomplishment, which furthers our ongoing commitment to provide educational stewardship in the area of leadership,” said SEU President, Dr. Kent Ingle. “I also want to commend Dr. Ric Rohm, Dr. Leroy VanWhy, and Dr. Emile Hawkins whose collaborative efforts were instrumental in bringing these programs to fruition.”

Hawkins has a Doctorate of Strategic Leadership and focuses on coaching and consulting with church leaders. VanWhy earned a Ph.D. in Organization Leadership and is an expert in authentic leadership and followership. Rohm also earned a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership with a focus on cross-cultural and servant leadership. All three have distinguished U.S. military careers.

Ph.D. students will focus more on research methods in preparation for their dissertation, while DSL students will focus on completing courses to help them in consulting and preparing for their capstone project. The first cohort will take the same classes for two years, before separating for their preferred degree.

The programs follow a hybrid format with both face-to-face and online instruction, including in-person intensives conducted each semester (fall, spring, and summer). The courses are offered in eight-week sessions. The Ph.D. consists of 16 courses (48 credit hours), plus a minimum of 12 credit hours of dissertation work, while the DSL consists of 18 courses (54 credit hours), plus a minimum of six hours of capstone project work. Core classes for the program include “Followership,” “Cultural Intelligence,” and “Servant and Authentic Leadership.”

In addition to Rohm, Hawkins, and VanWhy, the program plans to bring on three more faculty members. Select professors within the university will also serve as adjunct professors in the program.

Students pursuing a Ph.D. may find careers such as college/university professor, researcher or think tank consultants. DSL students will be trained for careers such as organizational consultants, executive coaches and positions in executive leadership.

The program is currently pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Admission requirements include a master’s degree, a resume or curriculum vitae, two professional letters of recommendation, an admission essay, and a doctoral writing sample. For more information on the program, visit SEU.edu/leadership-doctoral.

Source: AG News

Rural Pentecostal Lights

There are 88 towns in West Texas with a school, but no Assemblies of God church. That number has dropped from 93 in 2009, when John T. Murdoch, 67, senior pastor of Christian Life in Lubbock, Texas, took action to reopen a closed AG church in nearby Brownfield.

That church, now named Christian Life Church as well, had closed after defaulting on a loan. Murdoch, with the blessing of the West Texas District presbyter and superintendent, took over the unpaid note, gave the facility a facelift, found a pastor, and reopened the church eight months later. Before closing, the church had fewer than 20 regular attenders. Today it averages 90.

Since then, Murdoch, with the support of his wife, Sue, and Christian Life, has rescued or reopened five more churches in rural West Texas towns. No two stories are exactly the same. Murdoch prays regularly for these towns, and when he hears of a church closing or struggling, he asks questions, prays some more, and waits on the Lord.

“If God gives us an open door, we go,” says Murdoch. “We don’t have specific goals for planting churches, but if we know there is a need, we’re open if God is.”

In 1985, Murdoch says he had a vision of a revival in sparsely populated West Texas, one that would “spread to the four corners of the world.” He still holds that vision in his heart, and it’s what keeps him going after 45 years of ministry.

The vision is unfolding. West Texas is saturated with resettled refugees from those four corners, and is also home to a huge Hispanic population. Abundant Life, a Christian Life affiliate church in Post, Texas, is a predominantly Hispanic and African-American church. Another, Lifepoint Church in Dumas, Texas, is reaching 19 different language groups through an English as a second language program it hosts and administers for Moore County.

Lifepoint celebrated its first anniversary on Easter 2016. In its first year, 15 people were baptized and several couples who met at the church married.

“It’s a testimony that God is doing something here,” says Jared B. Berry, 35, pastor of Lifepoint.

Murdoch called on Berry and his wife, Candice, to pastor Lifepoint and oversee the ESL program.

“I felt I shouldn’t pastor, but when that call came I knew God had other plans,” says Berry. “Pastor John doesn’t give up on people.”

Christian Life’s other affiliated churches are Canadian River Cowboy Church in Borger; One Way in McLean, which recently merged with First Baptist Church at that pastor’s request; and Springs of Life in Roaring Springs, a church that had closed after dwindling to five attendees, with the property sold. Murdoch stepped in after an 80-year-old woman called to tell him she had nowhere to go to church.

“I promised her she would be the first member of a new church and would see it full,” says Murdoch.

Before the woman died, Springs of Life had as many as 100 people in attendance, according to Murdoch.

“No church is too small if it’s got people in it, no matter how many,” Murdoch says. “Jesus died for everybody. Every person counts.”

Source: AG News

The Rural Reality of Poverty

Sometimes images of Andy Griffith and Mayberry form our perception of rural America. Unfortunately, realities of poverty and isolation are closer to the truth of what the average small town community experiences today.

Current poverty rates in rural America exceed the poverty rates in urban communities, and there are significantly less social services available to address these needs, according to the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services (NACRHHS). Persistent poverty counties have poverty rates of 20 percent or higher, and 88 percent of persistent poverty counties are rural.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that one in four children in rural America lives in poverty. And rural areas have more single guardian households than urban areas. People in rural areas also struggle with unemployment, substance abuse, and domestic abuse. According to NACRHHS, a rural teen is more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol than an urban teen. Pew Research Center declared drug abuse to be the leading problem in rural America.

As Christians we know that statistics are not the full picture, but we must ask ourselves: If the church vanished from these small towns, would anyone notice? Instead of asking, “How big is your church?” we should ask, “How is your church impacting its community?”

THE CHURCH’S STRATEGIC ROLE

Several years back, I heard a lecture on small communities. The professor’s research revealed what I have observed. In the past, there were three foundations of a small town: the family, public schools. and the local church. The community often centered around the local church. Over time, the family unit splintered, local churches lost much of their influence, and only public schools remained as a foundation in small towns. Despite this shift, the local church is still the best equipped to facilitate healthy development within communities.

Recently, a friend purchased a pair of jeans for over $100, replete with designer holes and frays. His grandmother offered to wash his laundry while he was away, and after returning home, he found that Grandma had patched the holes and cut off the frays of his jeans. Grandma didn’t understand the value of the frayed jeans.

Likewise, outsiders of a small town often do not understand the community’s local culture and its interpersonal relationships. Because the church is made up of its community and because it is God’s highest order in a community, the local church can and must once again become a foundational entity in small town life.

A CHANGE IN FOCUS

Rural church pastors often understand the vastness of the poverty around them. They may wonder — while often battling their own limited resources — how they can minister to their community in need. Often, learning how to serve in these situations begins with a change in focus.

In Crazy Love, Francis Chan says, “Christians are like manure: Spread them out and they help everything grow better, but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly!”

Hiding behind the four walls of the church building makes the church itself ineffective and inconsequential. However, when a church longs to roll up its sleeves, spread out and collaborate together with their communities, a powerful force to address rural poverty can finally be unlocked.

CHRISTIAN COMMUNITARIANS

Rural Compassion works in over 1,000 communities, partnering with multiple churches of different denominations to train and coach their pastors to become communitarians. We suggest church leaders spend up to one-third of their time working with community stakeholders. Collaboration between the church, schools, civic circles, and government is essential. One rural pastor tells his story of becoming a communitarian:

I met with three law enforcement agency leaders, as well as the mayor, fire chief, Justice Court judge, soccer commissioner, directors of the counseling center, and the Chamber of Commerce. I also contacted hospice, the owners of the mortuary, hardware and lumberyard businesses, and the building inspector. I attended multi-faith ministers meetings and made myself available to the hospital and the assisted care facility. My wife partnered with the local schools. Through these contacts, we are seeing how the church can intentionally serve the community.

Other ways of addressing community needs can include honoring public servants, offering classroom supplies for teachers, becoming a reading buddy in the schools, coaching sports teams, and undertaking community work projects.

Rural Compassion also resources churches in small towns. This year we will give away over 125,000 pairs of new shoes through the rural church to children in the local schools. All of these create intentional relationships through which we can collectively address the needs of poverty and ultimately share the love of Christ.

As the church positions itself as an important leader in its community to serve the dire needs rural communities face, we begin to see those same communities become places where children and families flourish. Thanks to local pastors and church congregants with ambition to collaborate with their communities and local stakeholders, there is a fresh spirit stirring through rural American communities.

This article originally appeared in Evangelicals magazine.

 

Source: AG News

Full Circle for Gavin Brown

Gavin L. Brown has returned to his childhood church, Lifehouse Church in Beltsville, Maryland, to serve as its first African-American lead pastor.

Brown, 35, grew up in a low-income residential housing complex with his parents and five sisters in Laurel, Maryland. He started attending Royal Rangers meetings, and soon sensed a call to ministry. With the help of the nonprofit organization First Generation College Bound and its Homework Club, Brown graduated high school and attended the University of Valley Forge.

He now serves as board chairman for the Laurel-based First Generation. The organization, which helps struggling students beginning in grade school, provides tutoring and encouragement, offers college application help and financial aid counsel, and follows up as the students prepare for college.

Brown ministered in Maryland churches in Bowie and Lutherville, as well as in Novi, Michigan, before coming full circle to the city of his childhood. His experiences growing up in section 8 housing have made him more sensitive to needs in the community.

This fall, the church donated 75 backpacks to Edwards Elementary School and to the International High School at Langley Park, and provided breakfast the first day back for the 130 faculty members of Laurel High School.

“I had the opportunity to speak to the teachers and let them know we are there to serve them,” says the confident Brown. “We are a church that is willing to roll up our sleeves and say, ‘This place can be better because we are here.’”

Christine Gilliard-Arthur, a member of the Lifehouse team, concurs.

“Lifehouse Church desires to be cheerful givers,” she says. “We believe we can help solve poverty, and connect our time and much-needed resources in our community and beyond by being generous.”

The church has hosted five funerals in the first five months of Brown’s leadership. Brown is able to understand the grief process his constituents experience. In 2005, Brown’s oldest sister Ton, died from a diabetic coma at age 24. Toni was pregnant at the time of her death. A year and a half later, Brown’s 22-year- old sister Lisa and her 7-month-old daughter, Labria, were fatally shot in the Brown family’s apartment in South Laurel.

“You can’t check on the sheep if you aren’t with the sheep,” Brown says. “I recognize that ministry is messy. People come from all kinds of hardship — financial, marital problems, and lost jobs. I’m not as shaken when these things come up because of what I have experienced.”

Brown learned about the ministry of being present when Cornerstone Assembly of God layman Gary Lauffer helped Brown process the family deaths he experienced.

“Gary told me, ‘I’m with you, Gavin, for the long haul,’ and he has been,” says Brown, who married his wife, Shekinah, in 2010. The couple has two daughters, Selah Joy, 3, and Myla Rae, 1.

Gilliard-Arthur says Brown’s desire to provide for people in the community is evident.

“Pastor Gavin is authentic, engaging. and connected to everyone around him,” she says.

When Brown sensed God moving him back to Maryland, he began conversations about starting a congregation through the Lifehouse Network, a church-planting affiliate in the Potomac Ministry Network.

The day Brown resigned from his position with Brightmoor Christian Church, he received notification about the possibility of returning to his home church.

“I was about to leave the office,” Brown remembers. “I was one step out, and the previous pastor texted me to tell me he would be resigning.”

The Lifehouse Network is now partnering with Brown in a revitalization project for the 86-year-old church, which will relaunch in January. At one point, the church hosted about 400 attendees on a weekly basis. When Brown arrived to serve as the interim pastor in March, about 55 attended on a typical Sunday. Currently, around 100 individuals are involved in the church.

“God still has us here for a reason,” says Brown, who attended a Church Multiplication Network training and launch event earlier this year.

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — October 26, 1929<br />

In 1929, noted British theologian and church leader Donald Gee warned Assemblies of God leaders that they faced three temptations that could imperil the young Pentecostal movement. Speaking at the biennial General Council of the Assemblies of God held in Wichita, Kansas, Gee observed that those who are filled with the Holy Spirit “get the personal attention of the devil.” He listed three major ways Satan tempts Pentecostal individuals, churches, and movements, drawn from the temptations of Christ (Matthew 4:1-11).

According to Gee, Satan’s first temptation to Christ and to the Pentecostal believer is to use the power of God for selfish satisfaction. Satan tempted Christ to use His spiritual power to feed His own hunger. Gee declared, “Our Lord did not turn those stones into bread to feed himself; but not long after I find Him feeding five thousand” with miraculous bread supplied by the power of God. “I have not been baptized in the Holy Ghost that I may delight myself in a Pentecostal picnic … I have been called to the hungry multitudes.” The devil still tempts those with access to the power of God to selfishly enjoy that privilege without a thought to the purpose of the power — the feeding of a hungry world. 

The second temptation given to both Christ and the Pentecostal church is to be caught up in fanaticism. The devil tempted Christ to show the power of God through a wild display of throwing himself off the pinnacle of the Temple, forcing God to do a miraculous work to prove himself. Gee reminded his listeners, “The devil quoted Scripture! And the temptation to fanaticism is most deadly when it has a superficial appearance of being scriptural.” 

The cure for such fanaticism, in Gee’s estimation, is knowing the full counsel of the Word of God. He pointed to Jesus’ statement to Satan, “It is written again.” Gee advised, “Do not run off on two or three Scriptures, but be balanced on the whole Word of God. When the devil says, ‘There’s a fine text; you go and do something silly on that,’ you say, ‘It is written again,’” and bring the balance of other Scriptures to bear on the situation.

Gee illustrated this point with a story of a young man who was out of work. He was given the opportunity to drive a truck for a bakery. The young man said, “I must go and pray about it first.” He got his Bible, shut his eyes and opened the Bible, and came to the Scripture, “Man shall not live by bread alone.” He then interpreted this to be a divine revelation that “God does not want me to drive a bakery truck.” Gee said, “That was fanaticism based on one Scripture.” If he had remembered to say, “It is written again. If any man will not work neither shall he eat, all would have been well.”

He counseled the ministers present to combat fanaticism by keeping a balance of following the Spirit while avoiding fleshly excesses. “When you are up against fanaticism in your assembly and have people who do mad, wild things do not quench the Spirit by shutting down entirely” the Spirit’s gifts; instead “give them teaching!”

The third temptation of Christ and of the Pentecostal movement is the temptation to forsake the pure worship of God in exchange for popularity. Gee reminded Pentecostals that the devil said to Jesus, “If you will fall down and worship me … adopt my methods … I will give you the crowds.” Gee lamented, “I have been in Pentecostal churches which made me think of a theater or a sacred concert. We do not want the crowds at any price!” Gee preached to the General Council, “Do not think that I am afraid of the crowds. I want them. If we go on the lines of ‘Not by might, or by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts’ we will get the crowds. The crowds are as hungry as ever for salvation … Feed them the Word!”

Gee ended his sermon by reminding Assemblies of God ministers that they were part of the provision to safeguard from these temptations. Using the ministry gifts described in Ephesians 4:11, Gee taught that apostles and evangelists remind believers that the power of God is not given to selfishly provide “Pentecostal picnics” but to feed a hungry world. Teachers and pastors are given to provide teaching and guidance to keep the church from falling into fanaticism. Prophets provide the clarion call to the Pentecostal movement that the Church must stay true to godly worship and not stray into crowd-pleasing gimmicks that distract from the truth of God’s Word. Gee, in an encouragement to ministers, noted “that the Spirit of the living Christ is with us, battling against the same tempter, but also leading us on to the same victory.”

Read the full article, “The Temptations of Pentecost,” on page 2 of the Oct. 26, 1929, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel here. 

Also featured in this issue:

“One Thing Thou Lackest,” by Anna L. Dryer

“Daily Fellowship with God,” by Andrew Murray

“In the Whitened Harvest Fields,” reports from nationwide revival meetings

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

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

Source: AG News

Spreading the Light

For the fifth year in a row, an Assemblies of God U.S. Missions organization represented the only Christian group participating in the Festival of Lights, a major Hindu festival in San Diego.

Around 40 volunteers with Global Asian Indian Ministries, the sole AG outreach focused on Asian-Indians in the U.S., conducted children’s activities and handed out bottled water during the festival, in an effort to build relationships and share the gospel.

“There are thousands of people whose lives we would never have the opportunity to touch except at a festival,” says Dave C. Taylor, Global AIM outreach coordinator. “The seed planting is a very important part of evangelism.”

The Festival of Lights observes Diwali, a popular Hindu holiday that takes place each autumn to celebrate victory of light over darkness. To observe the holiday, communities in several Asian countries hang thousands of lights on buildings. The annual San Diego festival, held Oct. 14 this year, regularly draws 8,000 to 10,000 people.

Simon Gounder, the U.S. Intercultural Ministries missionary who established Global AIM in 2010, says the group established inroads with the organizers of the Hindu festival and found receptivity the first year because of providing children’s activities.

“They asked us why we wanted to do this, and we said, ‘Because Jesus loves everybody,’” Gounder says. “And they were fine with that.”

The trained volunteers handed out bottled water, played Christian music in multiple languages, distributed Bibles and tracts, and provided face painting and balloon art for children frequenting the festival. Gounder says the crowds at their booths rivaled those lined up for food.

To share the gospel with children, volunteers use three colors in face painting. Black, red, and white — to represent sin, Jesus’ blood, and a clean heart — are painted while artists share a tract that lays out the salvation message.

“Face painting is culturally dear for Indians, because they practice mehndi, which is using henna to paint designs on your hand,” Taylor says.

Gounder says volunteers handed out 500 gift bags to children at this month’s festival. To reach teenagers and adults who come to the booths, volunteers struck up conversations and offered to pray.

Global AIM currently runs seven locations in California — Orange County, San Diego, Inland Empire, Bakersfield, Fresno, Vista, and Stockton — as well as one in Milwaukee and one in western Texas. The group reaches out to Asian-Indians through friendship evangelism; building relationships in communities by visiting Indian festivals; inviting Indians to monthly fellowships; teaching English as a second language (ESL) courses; and assisting immigrants and refugees in adjusting to life in the U.S.

Gounder says Global AIM plans to grow significantly in its festival evangelism ministry in 2018, with a goal to serve at six major Hindu festivals in California.

Source: AG News

A Handheld Bible School

Mayumi lived for many years in Yokohama, Japan. She grew up within a Buddhist-Shinto community, firmly believing in many deities, spirits, ghosts, and apparitions, and in their influence on daily life.

But in the 1960s, Mayumi heard from a local pastor and some AG missionaries of a new concept — a Man named Jesus Christ, revealed in the Christian Bible as the Son of God and the only way to the one true God. The concepts of the Bible were hard to understand in current Japanese translations, yet Mayumi was hungry to learn more. The Holy Ghost was one idea that felt easier to grasp. After all, Mayumi had believed in many ghosts before. Yet none of them had been holy. The idea of a Holy Ghost intrigued her, particularly when she heard the mistaken translation “Clean Spook.”

Upon accepting Jesus as her Savior and being water baptized, Mayumi was given a Bible, which she began to read voraciously. It overwhelmed her, and she did not understand much of what she studied; but every year for the next 40 years, Mayumi persistently read her Bible from cover to cover.

In September 2016, Bible reading was forever changed for Mayumi and many more like her. After more than a decade in the making, the Japanese Fire Bible was released.

The Pentecostal study Bible was produced by a partnership between Life Publishers, AGWM’s multi-platform publisher, and New Life Ministries (NLM), a Japanese publishing company that serves the area’s small evangelical community.

Mayumi quickly obtained a copy of the Fire Bible. “As I read, I discovered explanations, word meanings, cultural information, maps, references, footnotes, and study features which had never entered my mind! I feel now that I am holding a Bible school in my hands!” she exclaims. “Oh, how rich I feel, after 40 years in God’s Word, to feel His Holy Spirit leading me along new pathways for my life. How precious is the Lord, and how valuable is His Word!”

Mayumi’s story is not unique. Now in its second year of release, the Japanese Fire Bible has ignited hungry hearts, spirits, and minds in ways previously impossible, and many enthusiastic readers are celebrating its completion.

“Amid revivals happening in many other countries, Japan remains known as a graveyard for missionaries,” says Chihaya Lucena, creative director at NLM. “I believe this Bible will help uncover spiritual eyes of Japanese believers and raise them up as strong soldiers of God. I hope the Fire Bible will cross denominational borders. And when the Rapture happens and we believers have all been taken, the Fire Bibles we leave behind may still be one of the books of light that can bring those left behind to true faith.”

Yoshiko Narafu, director of NLM’s missions department, agrees. “I believe the study notes and articles based on Pentecostal faith will open many Japanese Christians’ eyes, bring their faith to a higher level, and encourage them to renew their hearts for evangelism. I trust this Fire Bible will be a common tool for generations and among all denominations. Many people around the world are praying for revival in Japan, and I believe this Bible will be one of the elements to make it happen.”

Fifty copies of the Fire Bible were donated to Central Bible College (CBC) in Tokyo in response to the urgent need for trained Japanese ministers and laypersons.

CBC president Koichi Kitano rejoiced at the gift, saying, “This has been a long-awaited study Bible, especially among our students. Its contents will surely enrich their sermon preparation, hermeneutical skills, and personal devotions. Then, we expect the Spirit’s fire to ignite Japan!”

Only about 1 percent of Japan’s population are evangelical Christians. Toshikazu Iwaoka, NLM associate director, refers to the other 99 percent as “125 million searchers.” He shares the belief that the Fire Bible is critical to the redemption of those searchers.

“In the Fire Bible even ordinary people can find the treasures of God’s kingdom,” affirms Akei Ito, former general superintendent of the Japanese Assemblies of God and managing editor of the Japanese Fire Bible project.

Warren Flattery, a veteran AGWM missionary of 52 years who has served the past eight years with Life Publishers, and NLM director, Roald Lidal, believe the Fire Bible is a revolutionary turning point for the small Japanese Christian community as it faces many struggles. Lidal comments that there is a distinct need for a fiery passion for God’s Word to lay hold of Japanese hearts. Believers who feed on, understand, and act on Scripture will be empowered to passionately reach out to Japan’s lost.

“In Japan,” Flattery says, “the church is small, and resistance to it is very high. Yet there does seem to be a small opening to the gospel. And, just in time, the Fire Bible has come. What a tool it will be.”

Source: AG News

Mothers of Hope

Danielle Gentry’s father went to prison when she was 12 years old; her mother’s incarceration followed five years later. By that time, Danielle cared for four younger siblings every day in their Hawaii home. Her older sister left at 14 when she had a baby.

Life grew worse for Danielle, a girl of Filipino, African-American, and European heritage.

Danielle got in an abusive relationship with a man she barely knew, and at 17 prematurely gave birth to a stillborn son. Danielle moved to Arizona, became involved in another relationship, and got pregnant again. Undergoing an emergency Caesarian section birth, again prematurely, her daughter lived only five days.

At 18, Gentry already had lost two children.

“Raising my siblings was hard, but watching my son and my daughter die ruined me,” says Gentry.

Her downward spiral progressed with drinking alcohol before noon to numb the emotional hurt. The depression and trauma intensified when Gentry repeatedly revisited the deaths of her children in her mind.

Gentry plunged into heroin addiction, and conceived a child again. Unlike the first two pregnancies, she didn’t care for her body physically, figuring this baby would die, too.

An early birth indeed happened, in Gentry’s 30th week of pregnancy, nine weeks before full term. Yet Noah emerged in May 2016 as a healthy 5-pound boy, showing no ill effects from the drugs in his mother’s system.

The joyous occasion didn’t stop, or even curtail, Gentry’s opioid abuse. Noah’s father suggested Danielle seek help in a substance abuse recovery program.

Now 24, Gentry has been at the Teen Challenge of Arizona Home of Hope in Casa Grande for 10 months.

Noah, now a bubbly 15-month-old toddler, stays with his mother on weekends and with his father during the week. Gentry says she plans to marry following graduation.

“I was broken when I got here as a grieving young mother,” Gentry says. “I assumed no one would understand the extent of my pain.”

Yet Gentry says God has healed her heart and is molding her for His purposes. She eventually wants to help Syrian refugees.

SEEING TRANSFORMATION

Director Teresa Logue has been at Home of Hope since 2010. She attends Casa Grande Assembly of God, across the street from Home of Hope. Attendance at the church is mandatory for women enrolled in the 12- to 15-month program. Over and over Logue witnessed the transformation of the women from the time they became residents until graduation. That spurred her to leave her career as a quality supervisor in a high-tech industry company to come work at Home of Hope.

“No woman grows up deciding she’s going to be a drug addict, destroy family and friend relationships, and lose her children; women do this as a result of the broken places of their heart,” says Logue, 58. “For the most part, if a student stays past the first 30 days, she will make it through the program. Jesus heals those broken places. We teach and disciple so they can be delivered from all the things that bind them and learn to properly parent their children.”

Currently, Home of Hope has 33 mothers and 17 children in residence. The center features a beauty salon, arts and crafts room, and library. Women with children have their own living spaces, frequently a modern, furnished studio apartment.

There are no television sets in the facility for moms to plop their children in front of during the evenings.

“We want bonding to occur between mother and child,” Logue says. She struggled with addiction as a youth and raised five children as a single mom before marrying a man with four children 11 years ago. Logue has 14 grandchildren.

Before their daily studies, mothers drop off their children at the home’s Christian child care center, which is open to the community and can accommodate 100 children up to age 11. The center also provides vocational training for the mothers under a state-certified trained teacher.

Residents choose to live in the facility and agree to comply with program guidelines.

“Most of the young ladies have had tragic events in their lives,” Logue says. “A self-evaluation process helps them to drill down and identify the root cause of the addiction.”

The center is financed by various private means, including donations from churches and businesses. Implementation of $40 per month individual sponsorships has proven popular, with donors receiving a monthly newsletter written by the resident. Sponsorships have blossomed in part because the women typically visit regional congregations three times a month to share their testimonies.

TURNAROUND FROM TRAGEDY

Shanan Reed can’t remember her parents living under the same roof. She does recall moving practically every year with her mom, who repeatedly found new boyfriends. The Illinois native starting taking drugs in sixth grade, initially Xanax after a manic depression/bipolar diagnosis. Marijuana and cocaine followed. After being raped in front of her newborn son at 20, Reed turned to heroin.

The murder of the father of her son triggered further depression, plus half a dozen drug overdoses. Eventually, Reed lost her job, car, house, and custody of her son, Kayne. A cousin’s plea for prayer on Facebook on Reed’s behalf led to a contact who suggested Teen Challenge.

“I was broken when I came to Home of Hope,” says Reed, 26. “Although I blamed God for all my troubles, He kept me alive.”

A month into her stay, pastor Chris Holmes visited Home of Hope and prophesied over Reed that the enemy’s assignment had been canceled, and the spirit of depression and suicide rebuked.

“Joy spilled into me and I never felt so free,” Reed recalls. “I knew it was God, because this man didn’t even know me.”

Reed has lived at Home of Hope for four months. She regained custody of Kayne, now 5 years old, in September.

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

Sarah Butler, 32, graduated from Home of Hope in September. She is a student services coordinator intern at the facility.

“God has used my tragic story to come alongside these ladies to help them walk through their grief,” says Butler, who grew up in Arizona.

That story involves using alcohol and marijuana in her early teens, methamphetamines by high school, and opioid addiction subsequently. A blur of jail sentences and rehab stints dominated early adulthood. Butler met her husband in a court-mandated drug rehab program at the age of 21.

Despite an addiction to pain pills, the married couple held steady jobs, he as a construction foreman and she as a physical therapy clinician. They sent their two children to Christian school.

But then her brother-in-law came to live with the family after release from a penitentiary. Butler, her husband, and brother-in-law all started using heroin. The men burglarized houses to fuel the dependency. Police raided their home in December 2015, and Butler’s husband and brother-in-law went to jail. The brother-in-law committed suicide shortly after being arrested by jumping off his second-story jail cell. Her husband, out of jail on bond, committed further crimes and fled from authorities. He killed himself in front of Butler in February 2016.

Butler had lost her automobile, job, home, husband, and custody of her two children. Friends had abandoned her because of the drug lifestyle. Her family prevailed upon her to enroll at Home of Hope. While growing up, Butler’s mom always made sure her daughter went to church and youth camp. But Butler says she never made a personal commitment to Christ during her formative years. That changed once she entered the Teen Challenge program.

“I thought my life was utterly over, but God has done a complete heart transplant,” Butler says. “I feel joy and purpose again.” Within three months of entering Home of Hope, Butler regained custody of Abigail, now 7, and Isaac, 4.

UNUSUAL MINISTRY

Such narratives warm the heart of Snow Peabody,  executive director of Arizona Teen Challenge since 1975.

“These mothers would never darken the door of a substance abuse recovery program if they couldn’t bring their child,” Peabody says. “Most states don’t provide any such programs.”

Only 11 of the 66 U.S. Missions Adult & Teen Challenge women’s centers in the U.S. allow children ages 7 and under to live with their mothers.

Home of Hope, one of five Teen Challenge centers in the state, opened in 2003 in Casa Grande, a growing community of 55,000. A total of 248 women have graduated, and 167 child safety cases have been closed by the state as a result of mothers turning their lives around. Peabody says 35 percent of Arizona Teen Challenge graduates go into full-time ministry.

“I can’t highlight enough the importance of this kind of program, which just isn’t available elsewhere in the church at large,” Peabody says. As the metamorphosis of the women in the program encouraged Logue, Peabody is most inspired by the impact on the kids.

“These poor children have been traumatized, especially if their mother has been addicted for years or living on the street,” Peabody says. “Often when the children arrive they are afraid of any adult. But by the end of the program they are loving and smiling.”

IMAGE – Those at Home of Hope include (from left) Danielle Gentry, Shannan Reed (with Kayne), Sarah Butler (with Abagail and Isaac), and Director Teresa Logue.

Source: AG News