Why Attend an AG College?<br>

Dr. Jim Heugel is the provost at Northwest University (AG) in Kirkland, Washington. In the following editorial, he provides insights to the specific benefits student enjoy when they choose to attend a college or university that is not just Christian by name, but where the community is made up of fellow believers — such as found on the campuses of Assemblies of God endorsed colleges and universities.

In United States higher education, May 1 is known as College Commitment Day. Each year around that date, the news media generates scores of stories about the college application process, how to be selected for your first choice school, the intense competition for acceptance at a handful of prestige universities, and the pain of not being admitted to one’s first-choice college. My heart goes out to these hopeful high school students. I honor their hard work, and I completely understand their intense desire to be admitted to the best and most esteemed school.

The problem is that these two ideas — best and prestigious — are often at odds. Prestige has to do with generally acknowledged status or rank. The prestigious school is the one most people think is best. But, in reality, the best school is the one that’s best for you.

For many Christian students who are serious about their commitment to follow Jesus and want an education that prepares them for a life that makes a difference in this world for God’s kingdom, a private Christian university should be considered the most prestigious and best.

There are many reasons to suggest this, but I’ll just list a few.

The magic of education in a faith-based community

A college education doesn’t happen in isolation — it is a group process involving students, faculty, campus ministries, and student development personnel. Indeed, a large part of the learning happens outside the classroom. So the community one chooses to be part of during this process is critical to the quality of both the experience and the outcome. When this community is made up of fellow believers — sisters and brothers in Christ who share beliefs and purposes at the deepest levels — something supernatural hand utterly joyful takes place.

The power of relating academics to faith

Many Christian live compartmentalized lives. They know that Jesus cares about their education and that biblical truth should inform how they approach their studies and career, but they are frustrated at the lack of opportunity to integrate their lives of faith with their professional lives. The faculty at faith-based universities devote much of their thought and effort giving students the intellectual and theological tools to pull together every aspect of life — personal and public, worship and scholarship, family and work — into a unified whole. It is only in the Christian university that every aspect of every subject, including faith, can be fully explored. The outcome is life changing.

The joy of getting to be your authentic self

College is an incredible time of growth, discovery, and identity-building — not to mention it’s a time when we create many of our lifelong friendships. In secular schools, Christian students often feel like outsiders because their faith leads them to take an approach to identity development that is at odds with their professors or peers. At faith-based universities, students are free to fully live out God’s calling and to bring their whole person to every aspect of their education.

Excellence is in our spiritual DNA

There is a new generation of scholars of faith who have experienced the rigors of academic excellence and then have blazed new trails as Christian scholars. These scholars are driven by academic curiosity and excellence as a part of the Christian call. In Christian Universities, they are able to explore their academic pursuits, connect with human need, and pass on the passion for their field to the next generation of faithful scholars.

So for Christian students who are committed to becoming difference-makers for God’s kingdom, a private Christian college is the best and most prestigious option. Christian universities are committed to being a place of spiritual vitality and academic excellence. Additionally, the campus communities are dedicated to the holistic development of every student, so not just academic, but also spiritual, emotional, social, and even physical growth. We believe in our students and believe that they will be world-changers who powerfully engage with human need.

Source: AG News

Feed My Sheep

In the early 2000s, the high desert city of Victorville was booming. Neighborhoods of beautiful, affordable homes sprang up, quickly bought by those who had sold their houses in the greater Los Angeles area for top dollar. These homeowners’ plans to start fresh with their families flowed with the American dream: buy a new home that costs half the market average of nearby Riverside County and live comfortably. 


But in Southern California’s boom-and-bust cycle, what went up came crashing down. Jobs evaporated in the economic recession that started in 2008. New employment that offered comparable salaries proved scarce; in Victorville, which lacks local industry, virtually no new good-paying employment came along. Homes went into foreclosure, pushing many into a rising population of the dispossessed. Most of the newly disenfranchised never expected to find commonality with the homeless, undocumented immigrants, newly released prisoners, and those living in government-subsidized housing.


Even today, unemployment across the area remains high. Rampant crime, methamphetamine addiction, and street gangs add to the city’s woes.


Week to week, Victorville First Assembly of God, a six-campus church with a presence in five surrounding communities and attendance of 3,100, helps meet the needs and break the cycle of poverty and misery by serving the metroplex population of 400,000. Twice a month, residents can receive protein, produce, and bread through the food pantry Victorville AG founded nine years ago called Feed My Sheep. As a U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved food bank and the largest in the high desert of Southern California, three times each week in rotation at its Victorville, Hesperia, and Apple Valley campuses, Feed My Sheep distributes pallets of commodities it receives from the government food program as well as the nonprofit organization Second Harvest, plus national chain stores and restaurants.


Around three-dozen church volunteers keep the operation running, distributing the goods, praying with people in line, and inviting them to church Bible studies, events, and ministries. The outreach feeds more than 700 families per week.


“The biggest word is hope,” says Wayne Boyd, outreach pastor and director of Feed My Sheep. “This is a helping hand, coming alongside what they’re doing in their own lives, helping them make their ends meet. We want to provide the physical needs, but also the spiritual and social needs in a time of difficulty. Hopefully, we can meet all three of those needs.”


Many recipients, he notes, are regulars; most don’t attend Victorville First Assembly, which allows the church to build relationships with members of the community at large.


In addition, anyone can receive eight items of clothing from the church closet. The church offers a full-time counseling ministry to the public. To help equip those who come out of prison and other difficult situations with life skills, the church has launched an anti-recidivism ministry.


These ministries provide a means to engage church members, Boyd notes. It’s also been a bridge to join the congregation.


“Some were needing help 10 years ago,” he says. “Now they’re able to sit across the table to help pay it forward.”


John C. Martin, 53, lead pastor of Victorville First AG, says that despite the social problems plaguing the area, there is a positive side.


“Amid the darkness, and there is darkness on the high desert, the light shines brightly,” Martin says. “The Lord has given us the ability to touch people, one life at a time.”


Last year, the church planted a new campus in Palmdale; next year, the church plans to start a new church in Adelanto.


Source: AG News

A Deaf Church Sees God Speak

Little Tom Jackson says when the Holy Spirit began impressing the need to learn sign language upon him, he didn’t know why. Out of obedience, Jackson bought some books and learned as many words as possible. Then he says the Holy Spirit nudged him to go back to college, and he enrolled in an American Sign Language (ASL) English interpretation program. He still didn’t understand the reason.


After he became the pastor of Oak Brook Community Deaf Church in Illinois in 2011, Jackson says he realized why God wanted him to learn about deaf culture. Ministering to the deaf required understanding a cultural minority as distinct as those of different ethnic groups.


According to Jackson, in a deaf church, communication is key. For example, Jackson says deaf people raise their hands in church when they need clarity.


An attendee of Oak Brook Community Deaf Church since 2009, Marlene Clemens says she appreciates Jackson’s ability to communicate using ASL. Her husband, Kyle, agrees, saying having a pastor who knows sign language helps them stay focused on God’s Word. The small congregation of about 30 also benefits from PowerPoint presentations.

Originally a deaf person at church taught Jackson’s wife, Jenna, to sign. The church’s ongoing sign language class also has helped, but Jenna said she is still learning. A communications coach and administrator, Jenna usually works behind the scenes responding to God’s personal call “to help people see themselves as God sees them.”


For many of the deaf, finding a job that reinforces this positive self-image isn’t easy.


“The majority of the deaf community only have a fifth-grade education,” Jackson says. Hearing parents tend to shelter deaf children and may not teach them important life concepts, he says.


That’s why — in addition to his day job with the Chicago Public Schools system teaching educators how to help young children learn to read — Jackson works nights teaching the deaf. Using Scriptures, Jackson coaches church members on their responsibilities, encouraging them to become leaders.


Those raised in institutions are often taught to be suspicious of hearing people. Before they can receive the Holy Spirit, they may need to break free from that prejudice, according to Jackson. In addition, Jackson says the deaf often are taught that if they sign ASL, they shouldn’t speak out loud.


“But the Word of God says to make a joyful noise,” he says.


Jenna has been delighted to hear the deaf use their voices while speaking in tongues.


We’re all so much alike,” she says.


The Clemens thinks so, too. They want hearing believers to join them.


“We treat each other like brothers and sisters in Christ,” Kyle says. “Deaf believers can fellowship with and help teach sign language to hearing believers.”


Pictured: Jenna and Little Tom Jackson

Source: AG News

NAE Urges Churches to "Pray Together" Sunday, July 10<br>

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), of which the Assemblies of God is a member, is urging churches to commit to a time of prayer for “our hearts and the nation” during their worship services on Sunday, July 10, 2016.

“What if we all asked Jesus to change our hearts and our nation?” asked Leith Anderson, president of the NAE. “[Our] country faces many challenges. Now is the time for evangelicals to join together in prayer.”

Called Pray Together Sunday, the NAE call to prayer kicks off the week leading up to Together 2016 — a national campaign, endorsed by the Assemblies of God, to bring 1 million people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for a day of worship and prayer on Saturday, July 16.

In order to highlight Pray Together Sunday, the NAE has created a free bulletin insert that features six specific points of prayer. The NAE Pray Together page also offers radio spots that can be downloaded, a podcast conversation featuring Anderson and Together 2016 organizer Nick Hall, and a link to Together 2016 resources.

“Bringing together one million people at the National Mall for prayer makes a statement,” observes AG General Superintendent George O. Wood. “But imagine the exponential impact if millions more paved the way by lifting this event up to the Lord in prayer, that He would do the miraculous at and through Together 2016! I encourage every church to set aside time to seek God on behalf of ‘our hearts and the nation’ on July 10.”

Source: AG News

Living at the Crossroads

Marc Turnage, the executive director of the Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies, provides a regular column to PE News that offers deep and sometimes surprising insight into the Word of God through close examination of the culture of the day, biblical sites, and archaeological records. In this article, he reveals how God’s positioning of the land of Israel was by strategic design.

“Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Have you ever wondered why God led Abraham and his descendants to the land of Israel and settled them there? Why there? Why not somewhere else, like, say, Hawaii or Switzerland? While this might seem a deeply theological question to some, it really isn’t. It’s simply a question of geography. Look at a map of the ancient Near East and notice the two great river civilizations. In the north between the Tigris and Euphrates, you see the area known as Mesopotamia (“the land between the rivers”), where the great civilizations of Sumer, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia resided. To the south, along the Nile River, lay the great civilization of Egypt, the land of Pharaohs. In the west of your map is the Mediterranean Sea, and south of Mesopotamia is the great Arabian Desert. Now, find the land of Israel on your map, and ask the question again: Why this land?

Quite simply, the land of Israel provides the best navigable land bridge between the continents of Asia and Africa. It sits at the juncture of the two great river civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, the land between the crossroads of the ancient world. Whoever controlled the land of Israel controlled international travel, communication, and commerce. Israel has never lived in isolation. It was a highly coveted piece of real estate in the ancient world. By virtue of its location, Israel’s flora, fauna, and wildlife blend together the species and habitats of Africa and Asia. In a similar manner, the cultures of the major civilizations of the ancient world blended in the land of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, this provided a challenge for the people of Israel.

So why this land? If you owned a business and wanted to let others know about it, where would you locate your advertisement? You would place it at the crossroads where the most people would see it. God placed Israel at the crossroads of the ancient world where they could be His greatest advertisement. The children of Israel didn’t live in an isolated backwater, but at the place where cultures convened and collided. This provided Israel with incredible challenges because their ability to remain in the land depended upon their obedience to God (Deut. 8:7-20). Their ability to hold onto the land required their trust in God to sustain them at the crossroads.

Besides its strategic geographical significance, the land provided a classroom for God to reveal Himself to the children of Israel. The two great river civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia possessed developed cultures and religions. There was no place in those cultures for God to reveal Himself and teach Abraham and his descendants His ways. The land of Canaan didn’t have such developed cultures and religions, and by taking Abraham and his children into this land — the crossroads — God had a better environment to teach them about trusting Him and to help them understand His uniqueness among all of the deities of the ancient Near East. Israel struggled at the crossroads; it wasn’t easy. The outside influences affected Israel’s trust in and obedience to God, yet He didn’t let them isolate themselves. He wanted to reveal Himself to the world through the descendants of Abraham and His relationship with them.

When the Adversary came before God at the beginning of Job, God thrust Job into the arena to be seen by all. God put Job on display. In the land of Israel, Abraham and his descendants were on display, just as you and I are on display to our world today. God doesn’t want us to isolate ourselves from the world. Yes, sometimes it’s tough to live at the crossroads, but God still desires to reveal Himself to people and to teach them about Himself. Living at the crossroads requires that we trust God to sustain us. It also requires that we obey Him in order to demonstrate to the world who He is: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Excerpted from A Pilgrim’s Journey by Marc Turnage. Copyright © 2016 by Marc Turnage. Used with permission.

Pictured: Jerusalem at the Center of the World, published in 1581 by the German Heinrich Bünting. The map shows Jerusalem as the crossroads of the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe, underscoring its role as the “Land Between.”
Source: AG News

Reaching the Hmong Through the Airways

Following almost a year of living in refugee camps, Gia Tou Lee, his wife, four children, mother, and brother arrived in Wisconsin in April 1976 from their native Laos.

Lee, his wife, May Lee, and their children had no familiarity with Christianity while living in Laos. In Wisconsin, every Sunday they began attending the Lutheran church that sponsored their trip to the U.S.

“We didn’t really know what was going on when they picked us up, we just went,” says Tou Pheng Lee, 50, the Lees’ oldest son. “It took some time to accept the Christian faith.”

For the Lee family, a miracle caused them to believe the gospel. May Lee had an ulcer that she says God divinely healed.

A few years later, Gia Tou Lee says he heard a call from God to preach to the Hmong people.

Tou Pheng Lee says he experienced the same calling, and father and son worked together to form a Hmong congregation in Tennessee. They soon moved to Minnesota and joined the Assemblies of God.

Lee says the majority of Hmong people believe in animism, ancestral worship, and shamanism.

“The Hmong people live in the jungle with no doctors,” Lee says. “If someone gets sick, they call the shaman.”

In 1996, Gia Tou Lee founded the Hmong National Fellowship of the Assemblies of God and served as president. Since its formation, the Hmong Fellowship has grown to 18 churches, including one led by Tou Pheng Lee.

In 2004, Lee felt God calling him to resign from his post in the Hmong Fellowship. Lee says he sensed God telling him he needed to reach the 13 million Hmong people living around the world, not just the ones living in the U.S. Lee has been a U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries missionary since 2004.

Still based in Minnesota, Lee began a radio broadcast called Voice of Hope that today reaches Hmong people around the world. He and May Lee work with over 100 churches internationally to reach Hmong people with the gospel. They provide materials and teachings to pastors, most of them without a formal education. The broadcasts are conducted over FM and AM radio, as well as online.

As with his own family, Lee says Hmong people often have to see God work miraculously before they believe in Jesus as Savior.

“I just preach the gospel and they call,” Lee says. “Some people are very sick or are possessed by demons. They call me and ask me to pray for them.”

Tou Pheng Lee says he has promised his 70-year-old dad that he will continue preaching to Hmong people through the radio ministry after Gia Tou Lee is gone.

“Right now we’re kind of old,” Lee says, laughing. “I will serve the Lord until He calls me home.”  

Pictured: Gia Tou Lee and May Lee

Source: AG News

Protect the Poor, Don’t Profit from Their Need

Today in Kansas City, Missouri, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a new federal rule for “small-dollar lending” that will apply to payday loans, auto title loans, and payday installment loans. Without commenting on the specifics of that rule, I’d like to explain why I think the reform of payday lending is a moral imperative. A statistic, a story, and a Scripture will help me explain why.

First, the statistic: According to a May 2015 report by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, “Forty-seven percent of [American adults] say they either could not cover an emergency expense costing $400, or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money.” In other words, nearly half of American adults do not have $400 cash on hand for an emergency. These people are our family, friends, fellow churchgoers, work colleagues, and neighbors. They may even be us. They are in need.

Second, the story: The Kansas City Star recently reported on the heartbreaking story of Elliott Clark. When his wife Aquila fell and broke her ankle, he took out a payday loan to help cover the bills. When he couldn’t pay off the first one on time, he took out another, and then three more in quick succession. Each time, the high annual percentage rate of the loan compounded daily. It took Clark five years to pay off the loans. The grand total: $2,500 in principal, $50,000 in interest.

According to remarks CFPB Director Richard Corday made in Kansas City, taking out another loan to pay off a previous one is common in small-dollar lending. “Indeed, the very economics of the payday lending business model depend on a substantial percentage of borrowers being unable to repay the loan and borrowing again and again at high interest rates, incurring repeated fees as they go along. More than half of all payday loans are made to borrowers in loan sequences of ten loans or more. For borrowers who are paid weekly or bi-weekly, one-fifth of these loans are in sequences of 20 loans or more.”

The statistic tells us that many of our fellow Americans have needs. Elliott Clark’s story tells us that some of them are being taking advantage of in their need. And that brings me to my third point, Scripture. Consider this commandment:

“If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (Exodus 23:25–27).

It is tempting to dismiss this commandment. Some might argue that Old Testament law doesn’t apply to New Testament Christians. Others might say that in a modern, credit-based economy, the prohibition of charging interest on loans doesn’t work. Still others might claim that the commandment applies only to financial relationships among Christians, not financial relationships with nonbelievers.

The temptation to dismiss this commandment should be resisted. The commandment is part of the moral law, which is obligatory for Christians. With adaptation, it can be applied in a modern, credit-based economy by, among other things, prohibiting excessive interest. As for the notion that the commandment only applies to how Christians treat one another, I’d simply point you to the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ:

“And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:34–36).

What we see in both the Law of Moses and the Way of Jesus Christ is a moral principle that is both simple and universal: We should protect the poor, not profit from their need.

How should we do this? Regulatory and legislative reform is an essential element, but we do no one any favors when we focus on political solutions to the exclusion of other potential solutions. Alongside legal reform, we should consider other forms of action.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—of which the Assemblies of God is a founding member and on whose executive committee I sit—is a member of the Faith for Just Lending coalition. On the NAE’s website, you can read the coalition’s four principles of just lending:

  • Individuals should manage their resources responsibly and conduct their affairs ethically, saving for emergencies, and being willing to provide support to others in need.
  • Churches should teach and model responsible stewardship, offering help to neighbors in times of crisis.
  • Lenders should extend loans at reasonable interest rates based on ability to repay within the original loan period, taking into account the borrower’s income and expenses.
  • Government should prohibit usury and predatory or deceptive lending practices.

Notice that these principles require something of everyone—the individual borrower, the church, lending institutions, and government. Everyone has a responsibility to be a good steward of the financial resources God has given them. Everyone has a responsibility to protect the poor instead of profiting from their need.

As general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, I especially encourage you to strategize about how you individually and your church corporately can do this. Does your budget have margin to help family and friends with small-dollar emergency needs? Does your church have a benevolence fund to help members of the community? Are you teaching financial stewardship as part of your discipleship programming? Are you partnering with other organizations, such as Convoy of Hope, to meet the needs of the poor around you? My prayer and hope is that every Assemblies of God church and adherent will answer the questions above with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

In closing, I remind you of the words of Christ Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). May our Fellowship be so blessed!


George O. Wood is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (USA) and chair of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship


Image Credit: Vinceesq CC-BY-SA-3.0 

Source: AG News

Help on the Outside

Second of two parts.

Caring Christians are committed to helping the record number of American incarcerated women make a successful transition back into society once they are free.

Retired Assemblies of God Chaplain Pamela E. Moore is preparing to open a 10-bed transitional home for released women. The faith-based Sanctuary House Ministries in Camden, New Jersey, will provide a multifaceted 90-day re-entry program where women learn life and job skills as well as receive counseling. The 90-day training will feature a discipleship component.

“Housing is the number one need for women coming out of prison,” Moore says. “They have no place to go, so they go right back.”

Gina Hanna, founder of the ministry Beauty for Ashes in Platte City, Missouri, says mature Christian women volunteers can teach incarcerated or recently released woman about self-worth and erecting healthy boundaries in relationships with men.

“So many of these women have never had a stable, Christ-centered marriage modeled to them,” Hanna says.

Breaking the cycle of poverty can be difficult. A mother released from prison usually wants to regain custody of her children immediately, but Hanna says financial stability should be the most pressing goal. Yet never having worked outside the home, and with no husband or job skills, finding a good-paying occupation isn’t easy.

“It’s harder for women to make it on their own,” Hanna says. “Unless they get a support system around them, they may end up using drugs, losing their kids, and going back to prison.”

Manuel A. Cordero, senior director of AG Chaplaincy Ministries, notes that while women generally try to maintain family ties while incarcerated, that isn’t necessarily the case with men. Once released, a woman often discovers a former partner no longer is in the picture.

“When the rate of incarceration goes up, it follows that the rate of release goes up, too,” Cordero says. “Programs on the inside are wonderful and needed, but what happens when these women get out? Is the Church willing to step up and offer solutions to these women and their children, who are innocent victims?”

A study co-sponsored by the Assemblies of God and released May 24 shows prison ministry isn’t a priority for most churches. Few pastors have contact with those who have been released from prison, and two-thirds cite a lack of training or volunteers as barriers to their churches helping inmates and their families.

The study showed that among six Christian faith traditions, Pentecostals are the most likely to have a formal ministry to people leaving correctional institutions, support homes that help with re-entry after incarceration, and provide counseling for those who have been behind bars.

Hanna advocates that churches should be the key component of the needed support system. She notes that many congregations already offer financial courses, parenting classes, single mom mentoring, job training, and addiction recovery groups for regular attendees. With a little tweaking, she says such instruction can be adapted for those coming out of prison.

“There are needs for employment readiness, job skills training, substance abuse treatment, and parenting classes,” Hanna says. “The Church can step in and have a great impact upon re-entry.”

Moore, who has clinical and pastoral training, says explaining the available healing power of Christ is integral for women to truly change.

“Many really haven’t dealt with their past,” Moore says. “They didn’t have good parents, they may have had multiple children with multiple partners, and there’s usually no man in the picture to help.”

Moore says women sometimes have trouble adjusting to a more independent lifestyle because of the mandated routines they grew accustomed to in confinement.

“We want to see a transformation take place inside of them that gives rise to new behaviors,” Moore says. “They feel an abusive relationship is the norm.”

Moore encourages Christians, through their churches, to form friendships with incarcerated women so that they will be comfortable inside a sanctuary once released from inside penitentiary walls.

“When we help people we like to make sure they are worthy of our help,” Moore says. “But this group doesn’t fit that criterion.”

Among other things, church members can offer lower cost housing, free or reduced child care, and employment opportunities to women trying to get back on their feet.

Ordained Assemblies of God U.S. Missions chaplain and minister Susan Neumann hopes to open a transition in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. Neumann is a “community chaplain” whose duties include counseling females newly freed from prison.

Neumann, who attends Poplar Creek, an Assemblies of God church in New Berlin, Wisconsin, notes that more than 90 percent of those incarcerated someday return to their home communities. She suggests congregations can act as a liaison to ministries such as Teen Challenge that help women in need.

“The Church has to get over the fear and stigma of working with women who have been in jail and prison,” says Neumann, one of several AG chaplains involved in such rehabilitation efforts. “We need to get to know them as human beings, with their faults and failures and frailties.”

Pictured: Gina Hanna (second from left) regularly visits women in prison as part of her ministry, Beauty for Ashes.

Source: AG News

All the Gospel into All the World

Last week, thousands gathered at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh. They came to celebrate the realization of a God-given dream. Lead pastor Jeff Leake was driven by a passion to bring the gospel to some of the most “unchurched” areas of the U.S. He made an audacious goal of planting 100 churches. The 100th church will become a reality later this year.

“The goal for us is never just church planting,” Leake explains. “It is reaching people with the gospel who need to be reached. It’s about planting life-giving churches in the cities of the northeastern USA which is one of the most de-churched parts of our nation.”

Leake’s passion to urgently spread the gospel is a common passion in the Assemblies of God. The moniker “All the Gospel to All the World” has long characterized the evangelical, Pentecostal mission of the Fellowship. This mission, it appears, has not lost traction in the midst of a cultural upheaval.

Statistics released this week by the Assemblies of God show the Pentecostal Movement continuing on a countercultural trendline of continuous growth in U.S. adherents since 1989. The new 2015 stats show growth in the AG (1.4 percent) at a higher rate than the general population growth (0.7 percent). Since 1989, the U.S. population has grown by 23.3 percent. In the same 26-year time span, the growth represented by the U.S. Assemblies of God outpaced the population growth at 33 percent.

Internationally, new statistics show that the Assemblies of God throughout the world now accounts for 67,992,330 adherents in more than 365,000 churches. That’s a staggering 72.7 percent growth in worldwide adherents since 1989, making the movement the world’s fourth largest Christian group.

Efforts like Leake’s vision to plant 100 churches have been fully embraced by the Movement. Many of the 100 churches were funded in part with matching fund grants made available by donations to Assemblies of God’s AG Trust.

The growth in the Assemblies of God is not confined to new churches, however.

Leaders like Oliver Lora Ovalles are seeing this growth reflected in their own communities. Ovalles began pastoring Eternal Rock Assembly of God in Detroit in 2013. A church and city in decline, they had gone through a loss of vision and the congregation wasn’t growing. After connecting with the AG’s Acts 2 Journey, Ovalles realigned his church to the Great Commission.

“We needed strengthening in our structure and how we conducted worship,” Ovalles recalled. Eternal Rock soon doubled in weekly attendance.

The trends of growth in the U.S. Assemblies of God have challenged many cultural assumptions. In an increasingly polarized culture, the AG has become one of the nation’s most racially diverse faith groups. Now, 42.8 percent of AG adherents are non-white, ethnic minority. More than half (53.8 percent) of the AG’s U.S. adherents are under the age of 35.

While the statistics may seem encouraging, George O. Wood, AG general superintendent, urges believers to not remain complacent. “Our mission never has been and can never be by might nor power, but by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The vast lostness of humanity — not favorable statistics — should compel us forward with greater fervor.”

Source: AG News

More Women Behind Bars

First of two parts.

More American women are incarcerated — and being released from correctional facilities — than ever before, providing an unprecedented opportunity for churchgoers to help break a pattern of repeated imprisonment.

Nationwide, more than one million adult women are locked up, on parole, or on probation.

Overall, women represent only 7.2 percent of the total prison population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, in the past three decades, the rate of women in prison has risen 8.6 percent, compared to 4.6 percent for men.

According to the London-based International Centre for Prison Studies, the U.S. has 206,000 female prisoners, more than double the number of runner-up China. 

In fact, a recent Prison Policy Initiative report revealed that 25 separate U.S. states have a higher incarceration rate than any other nation. While the U.S. has just 5 percent of the global female population, nearly 30 percent of the world’s locked-up women are in the U.S.

“Nationally, property crimes are the number-one reason women are going to prison,” says Liz Stanosheck, who worked in the Nebraska correctional system for 20 years before becoming Prison Fellowship area director in Beatrice, Nebraska. “The reasons may be the economy, insufficient education for job skills, mental health not being addressed due to lack of health insurance, trauma, prevalence of drug use, or a lack of alternatives to incarceration.”

Stricter drug laws show no leniency toward women. And these days, more women are hardened repeat offenders, convicted of felonies and not merely misdemeanors.

“The gender equality trends in society today have also come to the criminal justice system,” says Manuel A. Cordero, senior director of AG Chaplaincy Ministries. “In the past, a man would be convicted for a crime while a woman would not even be charged for the same crime. But not anymore.”

“What drives many women to crime in the first place is they will do anything to receive love from men,” says Gina Hanna, founder of the Platte City, Missouri-based ministry Beauty for Ashes. “So many are serving time because they took the rap in an effort to save their man from getting into trouble.”

Hanna, 41, spent four months incarcerated on a drug charge in 1998. Beauty for Ashes is designed to reduce recidivism by providing Bible-centered studies that prepare offenders for release. The voluntary 18-month program ministers to women who live in a separate pod at the Women’s Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.


Compared to incarcerated men, women who are locked up are more likely to have mental health issues, been a high school dropout, experienced sexual or physical abuse, never held a job, and been a substance abuser. Experts estimate that 85 percent of incarcerated women have a history of neglect, violence, or abuse in their lives.

Women also have difficulty maintaining family contact when imprisoned because women’s correctional facilities tend to be located in remote areas that financially strapped relatives have difficulty reaching. Thus, they lose contact with the children for whom they had been primary providers, if those kids haven’t already been placed in the foster care system. According to The Sentencing Project, 62 percent of imprisoned women are mothers of minor children.

Pamela E. Moore, a retired ordained Assemblies of God prison chaplain, believes it’s unrealistic to expect women to have the internal strength not to return to their accustomed lifestyle if no alternative is available.

“The most important thing they, and all of us, need is someone to love them and to believe in them,” says Moore, 68. “Most of these women have never had this in their lives. The communities they came from are toxic.”

Hanna agrees.

“Adult women who have experienced childhood victimization resort to drugs to cope with the pain of abuse, as well as other stressors in their lives such as adult intimate partner violence, sexual assault, or grief over the loss of custody of children,” Hanna says.

Assemblies of God U.S. Missions Chaplain Susan M. Neumann has been involved in prison ministry since 1991. For more than a decade, she worked with fellow AG chaplain Bridget Sheehan, who died last year.

“When women come out, it’s because they’ve finished their sentence,” says Neumann, 59. “But just doing the time doesn’t solve the problem.”

Single moms love their kids and regret not being able to care for them because of their detention, Neumann says. Yet that doesn’t translate into becoming a good parent.

“They don’t really have a clue how to live a normal life because they have never lived a normal life,” Neumann says.

Tomorrow: What Christians can do to try to break the cycle.


Image used in accordance with CC BY-NC 2.0 license. Photo credit: WIFU Public Radio, Flickr

Source: AG News