AG Church Held for Ransom?

It used to be that one of the easiest ways for scammers to make big money was simply follow disaster — pose as a legitimate contractors, make big promises, and take advantage of desperate victims. Today, as at least one AG church discovered, all it takes for a scammer to make quick money is for someone to click on the right (or in the case of the church, the wrong) link.

Recently, a small AG church in the Wisconsin-Northern Michigan District (WNMD), opened an email and then the attached file — when they did, a “ransomware” virus took control of their computer, demanding a payment if they ever wanted the files on their computer to be accessible again.

Although some might blame the church for opening an unsolicited email, this email was actually sent by the church secretary to herself as a reminder to do a certain task. That’s right, she was opening her own email!

According to Mark Morton, the Help Desk team lead in the Assemblies of God national office’s IT (Information Technology) department, the chances are good that the ransomware was already on the church’s computer and attached itself to the document so that when it was opened, it would be launched.

But how did it get on the church’s computer in the first place? Jeremy Rakowski, the IT specialist for the WNMD, explains that it’s not that difficult. “In an IDG recent report I read that 93 percent of all phishing/spam emails now contain some form of ransomware.”

According to the International Data Group (IDG), targeted victims can be anyone, including the average user, businesses, law enforcement or government agencies, emergency services, healthcare organizations, educational institutions, religious organizations, and financial institutions.

Rakowski says that even if victims pay the ransom to gain access to their computers again, it’s no guarantee that the computer will be released. “There was a hospital in California who paid the ransom, and their computers were released and they could access their files again; another hospital in Missouri paid the ransom, and nothing happened.”

Morton explains that it’s not as simple as just not opening emails from unrecognized addresses, because sometimes the addresses are recognizable businesses’ or individuals’ names that have been pirated and/or greet a person by name.

“Now, when I get an email with a link, before I click on it, I hover my cursor over that link to make sure the name that appears matches up to the link name,” Morton says. “If it’s a long string of numbers and letters, it’s a good sign that the link is not what it says it is and in all likelihood contains some form of ransomware.”

IDG says that religious organizations’ networks, especially in smaller churches that don’t have their own IT staff, are “often infected with malware [malicious email] because their personnel are not trained to ignore phishing emails and are unaware of cyberthreats.” IDG also sites two examples of churches targeted in February of this year with ransomware attacks.

“What makes ransomware profitable for criminals is that they rarely demand exorbitant fees,” Morton observes, “Most demand a fee that is easier for a person or organization to pay than it is going through the headache of having to purge and wipe your entire system and then reload it from a back-up system . . . assuming you have your files backed up.”

Rakowski also warns that owners of Mac computers, which have historically been less susceptible to computer viruses, should not be lulled into a false sense of security as more and more ransomeware viruses are now “Mac friendly.”

And as IDG points out, if a team sends out thousands or even millions of malicious emails, if only a small percentage are infected and pay the ransom, it results in not only easy money, but significant money.

“Some ransomware will not only lock you out of your computer, but it will also infect any computer or drive networked to that computer,” Morton says, “including your back-up drives.”

Rakowski says that one way to help keep back-up drives from falling victim is to unplug them after every back-up. However, he admits, if the virus is latent (meaning it’s already on a computer, but has not yet been activated), the back-up will now have the virus as well, so even after reinstallation, it shouldn’t be assumed that the system is now virus free and should be carefully scanned by software for viruses.

Glenn Tofte, the IT Director at the IDCAG (Illinois District Council of the Assemblies of God), says the district’s computers were attacked by a ransomware virus when someone who regularly receives résumés by email, received one that was malicious — not realizing it until after he opened the file.

Although they were able to isolate the problem quickly due to their advanced training, Tofte shares some sound advice for computer users to consider:

• Be highly suspicious of any file that ends with a “.rtf” as that’s the preferred type of file for malware.

• If you’re expecting a file, but something still doesn’t look quite right, upload it to virustotal.com where 50 antivirus softwares search the document for a virus for free.

• Look for clues — does the sender’s email address end with a period followed by two letters (codes for other countries). Are you expecting an email from out of the country?

• In addition to standard virus software, consider installing a free (or paid) version of the utility called CryptoPrevent by Foolish IT on your computer. Antivirus software looks for patterns and signatures, meaning it’s already struck computers. CryptoPrevent is behavior based, basically meaning if something attempts to write or modify files in a place it shouldn’t, it will block it — it’s only available for Windows-based computers at this time.

• If a company contacts you by email, such as eBay, directing you to click on a link as a security precaution or because there’s something wrong with your account, instead of clicking the link, access the website through typing in the known address into your browser.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also has a vast resource of online downloadable helps, scam information, as well as free materials available to order. For churches interested in bulk orders of free publications from the FTC, they can find everything from campaigns to scams, identity theft, online safety, and much more on the FTC site.

Educating staff, keeping abreast of the latest scams to be watchful for, maintaining a back-up system, having the right kind of protection on your computers, and treating all emails with a healthy suspicion all help in keeping a church’s or individual’s computer virus free. But Rakowski, Tofte, and Morton agree, ultimately, when it comes to any computer becoming infected with a virus, it’s not a matter of if, but when.

Image used in accordance with CC BY-SA 2.0 license. Photo credit: Christiaan Colen, Flickr

Source: AG News

Embracing its Vision, Global University Resigns from DEAC

Founded in the Pentecostal tradition, Global University from its start established a concrete mission to prepare men and women for Spirit-empowered ministry worldwide. In order to advance this mission, certain standards for academics, governance, and the very nature of the institution were set in place. Global University developed relationships with multiple accreditation agencies and, through its work with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), was established as a pioneer in distance learning.

Recently, the DEAC paid an onsite visit to Global. They called upon the institution to redefine its mission, nature, academics, and governance. This was in sharp contrast to the glowing affirmation from the HLC, which recently gave Global a new 10-year accreditation through 2025.

University President Dr. Gary Seevers may have put it best: “Our mission, our nature, and our academics all define our vision. To change our vision is to quench a flame of redemptive education for those most needing the light.”

With this sentiment in mind, Global University’s Board of Directors, in conjunction with the Board of Administration, through prayerful deliberation and as a unified body, has decided to voluntarily resign from DEAC accreditation. 

As an agency, the Higher Learning Commission represents more than a century of educational accreditation, encompassing the largest collection of collegiate institutions, which spans over 19 states. HLC’s recent reaffirmation ensures that Global University has retained, in full, its regional accreditation for the years to come.

John Bueno, Chair of Global University’s Board of Directors, reiterated the positive sentiments, saying, “Diligent prayer, the guiding of the Holy Spirit, and the HLC’s reaffirmation have made it very clear that we have made the best decision for Global going forward.”

 

Photo courtesy of Global University

Source: AG News

The Prodigal Returns

Once the keyboardist at one of the largest churches in the U.S., Stacy Hord forsook her strict Christian upbringing, divorced by her husband after 16 years of marriage, and started to regularly stay out all hours of the night, leaving her three adolescent sons to fend for themselves.

On her downward spiral to despair, Hord traded her churchgoing friends for non-Christian partygoers, even though she continued to drop off and pick up her sons for youth group at James River Church in Ozark, Missouri.

At 2:30 one morning in 2004, Hord hit rock bottom as she drove home after drinking. She knew she didn’t belong in the lifestyle she had adopted a year and a half earlier, yet she felt so estranged from the Lord she didn’t know how to get back.

Hord knew she needed to pray, but she couldn’t formulate any words. So she just started calling upon the name of Jesus, whispering at first, then shouting by the time she reached home.

A couple of nights later, as she pulled into the church parking lot, a mother of other sons in the youth group approached Hord’s car. Hord figured the mom wanted to chastise her for not being more involved in the spiritual development of her sons.

Instead, the other mother asked Hord if she was OK. She explained that the Lord had awakened her at 2:30 two nights earlier to pray for Hord.  

At that moment, the prodigal began her return path home.

Raised in a legalistic and sheltered environment, Hord attended a fundamentalist Bible college in the mid-1980s and married soon after.

However, harmony proved elusive in matrimony. Despite winning the Mrs. Missouri title in 1997, Hord increasing felt as though God didn’t hear her prayers for less strife with her spouse. Ultimately, her rebellion started when she blamed God for a failing marriage.

After Hord’s divorce, her pastor counseled her to wait at least a year, and preferably two, before she resumed dating. But Hord initially disregarded the pastor’s advice, dating various non-Christian men and walking away from church altogether.

“I threw off everything I knew to be right,” says Hord, still weepy at the memories of that painful period. “I had no character; I single-handedly destroyed my reputation.

“Even when I was still married, I thought if I found the right man to validate me I would have value,” Hord says. “As a newly single woman, I was still on a hunt to find that validation, no matter what it cost me.”

After she returned to the Lord, Hord reconsidered her pastor’s admonition and went seven years without dating. She wanted to make sure she healed from her misdeeds and that she devoted time to the sons she had neglected.

Hord, now a youthful-looking 52, says she feels the Lord put a hedge around her because no one asked her out those years. In 2009, she wrote a book, A New Vision for Dating.

Now single again for 13 years, Hord’s sons are grown: Dallas, 28; Dalton, 25; and Dylan, 23.

Tim D. Keene, a retired staff pastor at the church, helped shepherd Hord’s restoration process.

“Her return as a godly mother is proven in the lives of her children,” Keene says.

Hord says she has learned to trust in the Lord’s provision and timing.

Hord returned to lay leadership at James River Church a decade ago, and serves on the prayer team and as a Living Free facilitator. She also speaks to women’s groups.

“She has been steadfast in her return to follow Christ,” Keene says. “She has been faithful in working with people with life-controlling issues.”

Hord, who became an executive assistant at Evangel University three years ago, says she finds fulfillment in talking to women on the brink of divorce, urging them to examine their own hearts in the relationship rather than to merely blame their spouse.

“I was arrogant and pharisaical toward my husband because I thought I was a better Christian than him,” Hord says. “I withheld grace. But grace is a changing agent.”

Friend Kim Bateman never stopped praying for Hord during her hiatus from the Lord.

“I applaud that she has been transparent with her story,” says Bateman, a real estate agent who has been married for 32 years. “I prayed during her struggle that the knowledge in her head would fall to her heart. Today, she’s a spiritually insightful person.”

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — June 16, 1963

Growing up as an Assemblies of God missionary kid in Puerto Rico in the 1920s and 1930s, Paul Finkenbinder (1921-2012) dreamed of reaching not just one country but all of Latin America with the gospel of Christ. He returned to the United States to attend Zion Bible Institute (Providence, Rhode Island) and Central Bible Institute (Springfield, Missouri). In 1943, he and his wife, Linda, packed up and moved to El Salvador where Paul began to work his dream into reality.

As Assemblies of God missionaries, Paul and Linda spent the next 12 years teaching in Bible schools, ministering in churches and making themselves available for whatever needs arose in ministry. In 1955, God gave Paul a vision for expanding the message he was preaching through the larger avenue of shortwave radio broadcasts. At the time, radio was still a novelty for many living in Latin America.

Beginning with a Webcor recorder mounted on a missionary barrel in his garage, Paul began recording a short radio program called “La Iglesia del Aire” (The Church of the Air). By 1963, this 15-minute broadcast was the only gospel network program heard daily in all Latin America. Hermano Pablo (Brother Paul) began receiving testimonies from across the region of what God was doing through the radio messages. Of the six daily broadcasts two were devoted to evangelistic sermons, one to issues of morality, and another addressed Bible questions. The remaining two were given to Scripture readings, Christian poetry, and gospel music.

In 1960 the ministry, then known as LARE (Latin American Radio Evangelism), pioneered the use of Christian drama to present parables and Bible stories on television. The response was overwhelming. This led to the production of six Bible drama films that are still in use today throughout Latin America. The realization of Brother Paul’s dream required utilizing every tool available radio, television, the printed page, crusades, and special eventsto present the Gospel of Christ to all of Latin America.

In 1964 Hermano Pablo and his family returned to the United States and established their headquarters in Costa Mesa, California. After four years in a makeshift recording studio in their garage, God provided a building for their studios and offices. Today Hermano Pablo Ministries’ four-minute “Un Mensaje a la Conciencia” (A Message to the Conscience) is broadcast more than 6,000 times per day and is published in over 80 periodicals. The Spanish language radio and television programs, along with the newspaper and magazine columns, are shipped to more than 33 countries of the world.

Hermano Pablo was honored by the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) with the award for the “Hispanic Program of the Year.” Other awards include “Best Film of the Year” given by the National Evangelical Film Foundation (NEFF), and the “Best Spanish Broadcast” Angel Award given by Religion in Media (RIM). In 1993, the NRB awarded Hermano Pablo the “Milestone Award” for 50 years of service in religious broadcasting, and in 2003 he received the prestigious NRB Chairman’s Award.

On January 25, 2012, Paul and Linda celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. Later that evening he complained of a severe headache and was taken to the hospital where he slipped into a coma. Paul Finkenbinder died in the morning hours of January 27, 2012, but the ministry of Hermano Pablo continues to live and thrive across an entire continent.

Hermano Pablo and his ministry were featured in an article, “La Iglesia del Aire,” published on pages 12-13 of the June 16, 1963, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “Should A Christian Have A Breakdown,” by Anne Sandberg

• “A Former Gambler Testifies,” by Arthur Condrey

• “Another Minister Led Into Pentecostal Blessing,” by Ansley Orfila

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

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

Source: AG News

Orlando AG Church Holds Prayer Vigil for Grieving City

More than 600 people gathered Sunday night for a prayer vigil at Iglesia el Calvario (AG) in Orlando, Florida, following the tragic loss of life that occurred when more than 100 people were shot and at least 50 killed in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning.

In what is being called “the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history,” the alleged terrorist Omar Mateen, 29, evidently systematically shot patrons of the nightclub, which caters to the LGBT community. In response to the shooting, Calvario Pastor Saturnino “Nino” González called his church together to pray for the survivors and families affected by the tragedy.

“On a typical Sunday evening, about 300 of our congregants attend,” says Calvario Executive Pastor Luis Ramos. “On Sunday night, we had about 600 people come for the prayer vigil.”

Ramos says the vigil also had unexpected guests. He learned shortly before the vigil was to begin that Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and other officials would be attending.

“Gov. Scott spoke during the vigil, as did Pastor Nino and Pastor Gabriel Salguro, our senior associate pastor,” Ramos says. “The pastoral staff then gathered around the governor and lieutenant governor at the altar and prayed for them as well.”

Ramos says all week long, prayer vigils are being held in the Orlando area with staff from Iglesia el Calvario participating in many of them. “Monday night, we participated in a prayer vigil downtown called for by the mayor,” Ramos says, “and Tuesday night, we were at the First Baptist church prayer vigil.”

Unfortunately, some have been offended that the church is participating in the vigils, mistaking compassion and love for people as approval of the LGBT lifestyle.

“The victims and their families are 90 percent Latinos and about 15 of the murdered victims were Puerto Ricans,” Pastor Nino González says. “The call to prayer for all people is biblical. Life is sacred, and when 49 lives are lost, the least the church can do is demonstrate, by its presence, God’s love.”

Photo from prayer vigil at First Baptist Church, Orlando, June 14, 2016.
Source: AG News

Securing the Connection

It’s well known that the role of women within the family, workplace, politics, and countless other institutions and circumstances has changed drastically in recent decades. It’s no surprise that how women relate to church is changing, too.

The phenomenon is highlighted by a Barna Group research report that shares the findings of multiple studies conducted between 1993 and 2015. The report states that last year, four in 10 American women had not attended church in the past six months. In addition, 46 percent of unchurched adults in the United States are women, up from 40 percent in 2003. 

What are the reasons behind women’s decline in church attendance? Stephanie L. Nance, 40, adult spiritual formation pastor at Chapel Springs Church in Bristow, Virginia, attributes it, in part, to a cultural divide between the modern woman and the modern church.

“We’ve seen a huge cultural change with women — they’re in a totally different place than just 15 years ago,” Nance says. “But in many cases [the American Church] is still ministering to women as if we’re in the 1960s.”

The Barna report cites other cultural, as well as personal factors as contributors, including lack of emotional engagement between women and their congregations, competing priorities, and changing family structures. According to Kerry Clarensau, 54, director of Assemblies of God National Women’s Ministries, the need for emotional engagement specifically is fundamental for women, and therefore essential to a fulfilling church relationship.

“Women are relational by design and tend to process emotion verbally and through connections with other women,” Clarensau says. “The Church is losing its ability to build those personal connections.”

Clarensau believes part of that loss is attributable to America’s megachurch trend. She says the megachurch model’s diminished capacity for facilitating close personal relationships requires larger congregations to be intentional about creating opportunities for women to form individual relationships.

“Small groups are beneficial, but one to one is critical,” Clarensau says. “Jesus pulled a few people close to disciple them well. Corporate worship isn’t able to do that.”

Without the appeal of personal connections, church attendance easily slips for women balancing families, careers, and myriad other responsibilities. The Barna research shows that only 11 percent of women rank church or religious activities as a priority, whereas 68 percent view family relationships as highly important.

“Time is precious and people fit church in where they can,” Nance says. “To change that, we have to ask ‘How do we get people involved in the lives of others again?’ ” 

Nance’s proposed solution starts with ministry. As a pastor herself, she challenges colleagues to find time to hang out with people, listen to them, and teach them to do the same for others.

“We have to find more time to sit with people in our churches and ask good questions,” Nance says. “Jesus asked good questions.”

When personal connections are made, and women feel valued and part of the church, additional benefits may result, including better health. A report published in The Journal of the American Medical Association concludes that frequent attendance at religious services is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular and cancer-related deaths among women. While this may be a byproduct of church attendance, personal connections must first be made.

Nance and Clarensau agree that churches must also make an effort to connect with women who fall into every demographic: divorced, widowed, and especially those who have never married. The Barna study suggests that spending early adult years in a church that focuses teaching and ministries on the nuclear family may contribute to single women disconnecting.

The potential fallout from women backing away from church affects far more than Sunday attendance numbers. As the teachers and nurturers of society, the worldview women possess has great influence over culture.

“There is so much dysfunction and lack of morality shaping the ideas of today’s individual,” Clarensau says. “It’s tragic, and the only hope is the Church and the truth it shares.”

Despite the harrowing nature of the Barna findings, Nance sees these current challenges as a part of God’s plan to involve women even more in His kingdom.

“We see women being raised up and empowered with influence like never before,” Nance says.

Source: AG News

Church Provides Bushels of Blessings

For five years, Bushels of Blessings, a ministry of First Assembly of God in Carneys Point, New Jersey, has run a 21st century gleaning ministry where they have gathered produce from local farmers and distributed it to food pantries and organizations in the Delaware Valley at no charge.

In the 2015-2016 harvest season, Bushels of Blessings collected 215,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables for distribution. Volunteers go out to local farms and sort through second produce, store it in vegetable baskets, and bring the food back to the distribution center. Here the food is sorted and prepared for pick up by organizations for their food pantries.

“Two hundred and fifteen thousand pounds of produce will provide approximately 1,100,00 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Executive Director Michele Montemurno.

Six years ago, Montemurno was unemployed and looking to God for guidance. “I was praying about what God wanted me to do next, during three months of fasting and praying, God began to lay out a step-by-step vision of gleaning for those in need,” she explains.

Montemurno approached Senior Pastor Keith Holt about the church starting up the Bushels of Blessings Ministry. “I believe it was what God had called her to do and I sent her out to do a little more research,” Holt says. “We have embarked on a remarkable way to meet the physical and spiritual needs of our communities through this ministry.”

At first, Montemurno was concerned that local farmers would be unwilling to donate their produce that didn’t make it to market.

“To my surprise, the response and support from our local farmers has been tremendous,” she says. “The first year, we started with four farms.” This year, 9 to 12 Salem and Gloucester County farms will participate in the program.

Dante Spina Jr. of Spina Farms is a strong supporter of the effort. “Finally, a group of dedicated people are willing to filter through our perfectly edible sort outs and turn that into many wonderful meals for those who are less fortunate,” he says.

Last year, 39 organizations were provided with fresh produce and fruit from the Bushels of Blessings Ministry. They come from all over the Delaware Valley to fill their food pantries.

“(Bushels of Blessings) has been a blessing to many communities by supplying nourishment needed so that people can obtain the proper food for a healthy diet,” says Bishop John Gaines from Faith Chapel Outreach Ministry.

Paula Corkum, director of Hands of Love Food Pantry, says, “Because of Bushels of Blessings, we are able to help so many people, especially our seniors, who may not have enough money to purchase fresh vegetables for themselves.”

Once a month, Harvest Time Worship Center makes a pickup from the ministry to supply their food bank, which provides food for approximately 150 individuals and families. They routinely pick up 30 to 40 bushels of farm produce.

“Bushels of Blessings has given our congregation the opportunity to both receive and be a conduit in sharing the harvest that has been shared with us,” says Associate Pastor Linda Garrison. “The ministry of Bushels of Blessings has been a delight for our people.”

Starting the third week of May and ending the third week of September, Bushels of Blessings volunteers go to the farms five days a week and gather the produce throughout the harvest season. The days of distribution are Tuesday and Friday.

However, Montemurno says the ministry still has room for growth and continues to seek additional volunteers. “Last year, due to lack of volunteer resources, we had to stop gleaning in August, which left about 150,000 pounds of food uncollected in the fields,” she says.

One solution for the volunteer needs, Montemurno believes, is for other churches looking for a short-term summer mission trip to consider “sharing the harvest” through assisting Bushels of Blessings in gathering and preparing produce for distribution. “We would love to have you come be part of changing communities and lives for Jesus,” she says.

For more information about Bushels of Blessings, email: Bushelsofblessings1@gmail.com.

Source: AG News

Treating the Whole Family

Stacey McGough felt as though she had reached the end of the line in an effort to turn the life of her drug-addicted teenage son around. Hunter Lamoureux had gone to short-term treatment centers, a group home, chemical dependency counseling, and a psychologist.

Being arrested, placed on probation, taking depression medication, and forced to wear an ankle bracelet to trace his moves made no impact on improving Hunter’s behavior. Neither did dropping out of high school, nor losing privileges such as playing soccer or snowboarding, activities in which he had excelled earlier.

Stacey made inquiries with dozens of treatment facilities, but none seemed a right fit to provide a breakthrough to restore the apathetic and angry Hunter.

But a phone conversation Stacey had with Ozarks Teen Challenge Boys Academy Admissions Coordinator Adam Holderread provided hope.

“I knew Hunter was supposed to be there,” says Stacey, a single mother in Whitefish, Montana. The athletic emphasis at Ozarks Teen Challenge especially appealed to Stacey.

However, the beginning of the 15-month residential stay proved to be anything but smooth for Hunter.

During the first month he ran away from the facility, located on 190 acres of woods among rolling hills at the edge of Branson West, Missouri. By the fourth month, when Stacey first visited Hunter in the Show Me State, she encountered a son much different from the one who cursed at her and punched holes in the wall at home.

“His whole demeanor and spirit had changed,” Stacey recalls. “I had my child back for the first time in three years.”

Six months into the program, Hunter made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

When he graduated from Ozarks Teen Challenge Boys Academy in February 2016, Hunter had earned 23 online credits for courses taken during his stay, finishing with a 4.0 grade point average. In the fall, Hunter will be a student at Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe. He received the highest academic grant from the school, as well as a sports scholarship to become part of the top college snowboarding team in the nation.

Stacey mortgaged the family home to send Hunter to Ozarks Teen Challenge. Teen Challenge is a ministry of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions.

“It was worth every penny,” she says. “The staff poured into Hunter in so many ways. They are such a gifted team. What they did was a miracle.”

Indeed, the dozen disparate team members at Ozarks Teen Challenge blend well in seeing that lives of boys ages 12 to 17 get back on track after substance abuse and other life-controlling issues. The therapy features a highly structured schedule that includes year-round on-site schooling in a classroom setting, group discipleship classes, and individual mentoring.

Residents at the 28-bed facility aren’t just from southwest Missouri, but from around the nation. Relatives usually decide to place boys in the faith-based center, although some are there because of court orders.

“Families need to buy in and be an active part of the process,” says the upbeat and personable Development Director Wendy Buttacy, noting the value of bimonthly parental visit weekends, weekly phone calls, and detailed monthly progress reports. “Family involvement is one of the biggest factors for continued success after the boys leave the program.”

Wendy, 32, and her husband, Michael Buttacy, the center’s 33-year-old executive director since July 2015, met at Evangel University. They lead a highly educated staff. Michael earned a master’s in business administration while Wendy holds a master’s in counseling from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.

Although neither Michael nor Wendy traveled down an addictive road as youths, others on staff did.

Program Director Steven Borchert, the youngest of eight children, says when he was 6 years old his grandfather began giving him scotch and whiskey to drink at family reunions. He tried to overdose on painkillers at 15. After a stint in the Army that ended with an excruciating ankle injury, Borchert cultivated a prescription drug addiction that led him to the brink of suicide.

“I was just empty,” recalls Borchert, 35. “I was trying to find fulfillment in the things of the world.”

Borchert has been at the center since it opened nine years ago. While he sensed God calling him to ministry during college, he went down his own path, earning a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology, before surrendering to the call.

Youths sometimes feel freer to be real with Borchert because of his tattooed-covered arms and rough-around-the-edges exterior.

“When our students first get here they hate it,” says Borchert, whose mother died when he was 13 months old. “I’ve been bit, kicked, spat on, and had stuff thrown at me. Guys we’re dealing with have been kicked out of youth group or school.”

But students eventually come to see Ozarks Teen Challenge as a place of refuge, Borchert says, and before leaving they already are ministering to fellow students.

Holderread, the 32-year-old admissions coordinator, has a master’s degree in criminal justice, served as a Special Weapons and Tactics police officer, and is a chaplain candidate at AGTS. Especially now that he and his wife, Rachel, have two preschool children of their own, Holderread believes he should be a role model to boys at the center.

“These young men need to have a father figure,” Holderread says. “But we also strive to restore the family unit — parents, guardians, siblings, grandparents — because they also are in need of ministry.”

Uniformly, staff members credit Buttacy — who tries to ensure that employees don’t put in more than 40 hours per week — with ensuring that they don’t burn out. Buttacy says he wouldn’t be surprised if most of the current team wind up leading Teen Challenge centers themselves someday.

“We can’t pay the people in these positions what they deserve, but they want to be here,” Buttacy says. “Their drive and passion is bigger than any paycheck, but nowhere in the Bible does it say people need to work 90 hours of ministry a week.”

Leigh Roberts, whose son Sam graduated from the program in October 2014, felt so impressed by Ozarks Teen Challenge that she heads up a support group in which parents of alumni counsel parents of current students over the phone.

“It’s a family disease and if you want your child to have the best chance at success, the family has to be involved,” says Roberts, who lives in Oklahoma City. “I hope to get every parent to talk about drug addiction to try to get rid of the stigma.”

Roberts, whose son is preparing to start his second year of college, lauds the Teen Challenge personnel for their care and involvement.

“More than anything, people who struggle with addiction need to be shown love, and the staff pours so much love into those kids,” Roberts says. “They act out God’s Word in the way they live.”

Pictured: Stacey McGough (left) participated in a five kilometer run with her son, Hunter (center), and daughter, Andrea, near the end of Hunter’s Teen Challenge stay last year.

Source: AG News

Preaching to the Back Row

When he stands in a pulpit on a Sunday morning to kick off a prayer seminar at a church where he’s been invited, Assemblies of God ordained evangelist Kevin Senapatiratne sometimes wears a “superhero” T-shirt under his sports coat, displaying the logo to the congregation.

“Prayer is not just for ‘Super Christians,’ ” says Senapatiratne, who runs a ministry called Christ Connection. “It’s for those in the back row who think prayer is not for them.”

Whether it’s inertia, fear, or some other factor, it’s not unusual for as many as 90 percent of a given congregation to be uninvolved in corporate prayer. Most pastors need, and want, prayer support, but sometimes the band of prayer warriors upholding a leader in prayer is small.

Changing those numbers is one reason why Senapatiratne, based in Blaine, Minnesota, 18 miles north of Minneapolis, starts his “Enjoying Prayer” workshops on Sunday mornings. That’s when the greatest number of people is at church. He also uses social media, particularly Twitter, to share encouragement about praying with over 100,000 followers in 140 countries.

“Those who think prayer is intimidating aren’t going to show up on a Saturday,” he says.

Senapatiratne’s motivation to involve more people in prayer stems from his own experience serving as a pastor of an AG church plant in 2005.

“Sometimes people think prayer is kind of overwhelming to them, and so we try and engage them so they can discover prayer is something they get to do, rather than something they have to do,” Senapatiratne says.

It’s not a matter of addressing God in letter-perfect King James English, he says.

“People think prayer is overwhelming because maybe they’ve gone to a prayer service and they’ve heard someone pray an eloquent prayer,” Senapatiratne says. “They think, I can’t pray like that, so then why even bother, rather than viewing it as a conversation with a Father who loves them.”

AG Minnesota District Superintendent Clarence St. John says a spiritual awakening is happening across the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

“I’m really thankful for every church and every person that highlights prayer,” St. John says. “Kevin has raised the level of prayer and expectancy just by the work he’s done.”

St. John, who also is on the Christ Connection advisory council, says he has noticed an impact in the areas Senapatiratne has visited.

“He’s not self-serving at all, and he gets a great response,” St. John says. He notes that Senapatiratne often receives commitments from 20 to 30 percent of local congregants to pray for their pastor.

“Any time you get that percentage of your church praying, you’re going to have a spiritual awakening happen,” St. John says.

Senapatiratne believes when the percentage of congregants praying for their pastor exceeds 10 percent, a church begins to see God move. He maintains that conveying prayer as an enjoyable experience can flip a switch for many members.

While hoping to expand his speaking and seminar ministry beyond the Midwest, Senapatiratne is already achieving global reach for the Christ Connection ministry via Twitter.

“We try to do daily stuff with social media,” he says. “Multiple times a week we’ll do either a video training or a written training of some fashion or form, and monthly, there’s some type of email-type training we send out to people who are signed up for that.”

He says 250 pastors around the world have signed up for email training focused on their needs.

“It’s amazing to see someone in some closed country reply and say, ‘thank you for your tweets, your encouragement,’ ” Senapatiratne says. “We’ll post a Scripture verse or a classic quote on prayer, and see a pastor in a remote village who doesn’t have a lot of resources give that kind of response.”

Photo credit: Maija Photography

Source: AG News

Sharing Jesus in The Ugly Mug

Church planters Brenton and Rachel Fessler discovered that packaging Sunday morning services inside a local coffee shop attracts a less-than-typical demographic.

RefugeOC meets every Sunday in The Ugly Mug Coffee Shop in Old Towne Orange, California. This location is not just a magnet for the coffee drinkers at the local colleges — many people who have had negative experiences with churches in the past are finding their niche here. The church consists mostly of young singles and young families; they are educated, have professional careers, and are community-driven.

“With seating for up to 90 people, we have found this coffee shop to be a perfect place to establish our mission within the city,” Brenton Fessler says. “It is ‘different’ and often less threatening to people.”

Understanding what an effective church model looks like wasn’t a hurdle for Fessler, who graduated with a degree in pastoral leadership from Vanguard University (AG) in Costa Mesa, California, and completed a master’s degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Vanguard.

“From the beginning, my context for ministry was founded on the principles of church planting and missional engagement within the community,” Fessler says. Prior to coming to Orange, he served on staff for 12 years at North Hills Church in Brea, California, which had also started as a church plant. His experience there gave him a foundational vision for RefugeOC.

About five years ago, the Fesslers began to dream about a new church plant. “Despite our reservations, my wife and I felt it was exactly what God had called us to, which gave us the courage to pursue it,” Fessler says. Once the couple set their sights on center-city Orange, their church plant was adopted by Hope Church in San Diego, pastored by Frank Wooden. The Fesslers then moved to Orange and began to learn the city’s heartbeat by engaging with the community.

The seedling of what is now RefugeOC grew out of a series of Sunday night Bible studies, which gave core group members the opportunity to invite friends and family who didn’t go to church and provided a base of people for the RefugeOC launch and leadership team.

The weeks leading up to the church launch were filled with non-stop activity, getting the word out and hosting multiple preview services. In addition to receiving the Matching Funds provided by AGTrust and the Church Multiplication Network, RefugeOC received support from the AG Southern California Network and North Hills Church.

RefugeOC held its kickoff service on Easter Sunday 2015 at the Ugly Mug with 93 adults and 14 children attending. Located between the classic Old Towne Orange on one side, with antique shops and Mom and Pop restaurants, and the premier Chapman University on the other side, Fessler says, “We are uniquely positioned to bridge the divide and capture the imagination, hearts and souls of our community. We exist to introduce and re-introduce people to a clearer vision of God.”

“When we first opened RefugeOC, the owner of the Ugly Mug didn’t have a positive impression of churches or God. However, he has now let us pray for him and help him with his business in small ways. I am confident his story is just beginning.

“We hired a sound man; he didn’t have much to do with God at first. The church was paying him a weekly stipend, but after a few months he came to us and said he wanted to volunteer his time because he loves what the church is doing. He is subtly opening his life to God.”

The church recently launched a new season of Refuge Groups to help take the Sunday morning experience into the workweek for the people in the community. “RefugeOC is experiencing consistent growth,” Fessler says, “which presents its own set of challenges as church attendance maxes out the capacity of the coffee shop. We are considering offering multiple services, while keeping our eyes and ears open for what may potentially be our next location.”

Source: AG News