Men's Ministries Announces Annual Theme, Resources<br />

In today’s world, it takes courage to serve the Lord at home, in the church, and in the marketplace. In order to develop that kind of courage, men need a place they can turn to in order to resource and reach that goal. For that reason, AG Men’s Ministries has chosen “Courage” as the 2018 Men’s Ministries theme accompanied with fully supported free downloadable resources from its website.

 “It takes courage to live, lead, and love as God intended man to live, lead, and love,” says Rick Allen, national Men’s Ministries director. “So often in today’s culture, the media portrays men as weak. But God wants men who are courageous in Him, for Him, and like Him — especially in their homes, their churches, and at their places of employment.”

The annual theme is based on Joshua 1:9 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. The Lord your God will be with you where you go. The support resources made available by Men’s Ministries include: Courage Small Group Study, Courage 21-day devotional, a Courage mailer, and a series of five Courage banners — all available in English or Spanish as free downloads.

The Courage Small Group Study offers five lessons that focus on relationships each man faces within his life, his family, and his interaction in society. Each lesson provides an opportunity where a man can study by himself or with a group of men. Within each study there are conversation points to assist men at three levels of spiritual growth: Courage for men who are wanting to find or grow in their walk with Christ, Strength for those who want to strengthen their relationship with Christ and friends, and Endurance for the leaders who want to finish strong and help younger men in the journey of Courage. Each study is supported by Scripture references and application.

“Whether men do the lessons in group or individually, I believe it is vital for them to come together and discuss their responses,” Allen says. “Many times we can see a need for change in our lives, but we fail to make that change because no one holds us accountable. I urge men to have the courage — or pray for the courage — to speak the truth about themselves to each other and then be willing to be held accountable for the changes they want to make. In this way, they can truly become courageous men of God.”

To learn more about Men’s Ministries, see men.ag.org. The 2018 National Men’s Day in the Assemblies of God is Jan. 28.

Source: AG News

A Taste of Japan in Illinois

Although not a Christian, Sayaka Ikeda of Japan enjoyed herself in a Chi Alpha Bible study group when she began attending as a first-year student in 2001 at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

The Japanese L.I.F.E. (Love, Instruction, Fellowship, Evangelism) group offered the familiarity of home by providing a place to meet Japanese friends, eat Japanese food, and speak her native tongue.

Those in the group talked about a message of hope in a language she understood. The Bible study, worship, and prayer took place in Japanese, which helped the young student still developing her English skills learn about God’s love at a deeper level. She met Japanese Christians for the first time through the group.

“It opened my eyes to see how Jesus is God of all nations, even Japan,” she says. “At first I thought Jesus and Christianity were only for Western people.”

Ikeda accepted Jesus as Savior at Carbondale’s Calvary Campus Church in 2005. The multiethnic Assemblies of God congregation is a ministry partner of SIU Chi Alpha, part of AG U.S. Missions. Today she serves as a full-time Chi Alpha campus staff member at her alma mater, leading the same L.I.F.E. group she attended. She is also a pastor at Calvary, which started in 1988 as a way to minister to SIU’s international student population in the community of 26,000.

Calvary Campus Church Pastor Bruce David Payne is also SIU Chi Alpha director. Payne says the church’s founding pastor, Dale Call, felt led to reach out to international students, and believed God would provide Americans with a heart for the nations to minister to them.

Individuals from more than 30 foreign nations currently attend Calvary. Students from more than 90 countries have attended Carbondale student ministries. L.I.F.E. groups, such as the one Ikeda attended and now leads, are a primary avenue for connecting with international students on a cultural level.

In addition to Ikeda’s group, SIU Chi Alpha includes African, Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, and Latin American groups that meet weekly for Bible study, and often include a meal and fellowship. As with Ikeda’s group, some of the Bible studies are spoken in a native language. 

As Ikeda experienced, L.I.F.E. groups provide a safe place for international students to see what Christianity is about. 

“Hopefully, as they get saved, as many have, they’ll get discipled and start coming to church on Sunday,” says Payne, 53. 

The international students receive the opportunity to share their culture with everyone at Calvary. Once a semester, those in attendance celebrate international Sunday. The different L.I.F.E. groups sing praise and worship music in their native languages and wear clothing from their home countries. On other Sundays, the worship team translates songs so that the whole congregation sings in another language. 

Source: AG News

Gold for Iron

Nestled inside a musty velvet jewelry box from among the belongings of her late aunt, Adele Flower Dalton, Kathryn Flower Ringer found a curious antique – a lady’s pocket watch. The scrolling, elegant numbers and hands were real gold; but the face and the case, a steely black.

Kathryn discovered the watch’s significance immediately, as wrapped tightly around the jewelry box was the following article, written by Adele and clipped from the July 1985 Pentecostal Evangel International Edition:

Gold-for-iron for JESUS:

Around the turn of the century, Mary Alice Reynolds heard of an irresistible deal: she could give up her gold and get iron in its place!

Crazy? Maybe. But to her it made good sense, because giving up her gold would help advance the cause of foreign missions…and that was something she wanted to do.

In the early days of the Pentecostal revival over 80 years ago, Mary Alice and her husband, Charles Reynolds – my grandparents – were members of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. From the C&MA an appeal went out: “Gold-for-iron for Jesus!” Those who brought their gold and possessions would be given iron and the proceeds from the sale of the gold would be donated to missions.

So Mary Alice Reynolds brought her gold watch and, much to her husband’s consternation, her gold wedding ring – her two most prized possessions. A jeweler replaced the gold case with gunmetal, and the watch was returned to Mrs. Reynolds.

If the watch was precious with its gold, it was even more so after the exchange. Now I have fallen heir to it and love to wear it because of its priceless value.

It is not the monetary value that makes the watch priceless; rather, it is the memory of the gift and the cause to which it was devoted.

The memory of the gift presents a challenge to us as Christians today. What are we doing for missions? Have we sacrificed? Is our love for Jesus so full and sincere that we would obediently give up our dearest possessions at His request? He may not be asking for gold jewelry, but He does ask for our lives.

Adele was certainly familiar with sacrifice for Jesus. The second of six children of early AG leaders J. Roswell and Alice Reynolds Flower, Adele devoted her life to missions work, first for 15 years as a single woman throughout Latin America and then with her husband, Roy Dalton, in Ronda, Spain. Together, Roy and Adele ministered for 10 years in Ronda and throughout Spain. After Roy’s untimely death in 1968, Adele stayed on until 1976 before returning to the United States to care for her parents. She served as senior editorial assistant for what is now AG World Missions.

Kathryn — daughter of Adele’s youngest brother, David W. Flower — was inspired by her aunt’s life of missions ministry and the compelling story of Mary Alice Reynolds’ sacrifice of material treasures. Because Roy and Adele had no children, Kathryn and her husband, David, had inherited the Daltons’ wedding rings. The thick gold bands were engraved with the Daltons’ 1957 wedding date.

Kathryn says, “I looked at my husband and said, ‘What good are those rings doing, sitting in a strong box?’ Let’s sell them and let the money continue Aunt Adele’s work.”

The Ringers were unsure of exactly how to go about “continuing Aunt Adele’s work,” but proceeded with selling the wedding bands and other family treasures. With the assistance of AGWM Archives, they got in touch with veteran missionaries Scott and Marisa Smith, who have served in Spain since 1975 and as fully appointed AGWM missionaries since 1984.

Marisa’s acquaintanceship with Adele dated back to 1968 and Scott’s to 1983, so they were surprised and excited to hear from her niece Kathryn.

“We loved Adele,” they wrote. “Neither of us, unfortunately, were able to get to know Roy, but he is a legend in the Spanish AG. The church in Ronda is doing well. One of the first converts there was a man named Manuel Bernal who later pastored the church. The current pastor, Ezequiel Bernal, is his son. Ezequiel and his wife, Mari Carmen, are doing an excellent job. They are in the process of remodeling the building and developing vital social outreaches to the community (including a food bank and breakfast program for needy children). The church is growing; the pastors are maturing. The future of the congregation and its influence in the community looks very, very good. Adele and Roy would be so pleased!”

The gift was sent. Mary Alice Reynolds’ missional act of nearly a century ago and the Daltons’ missional lives of half a century ago continue to bear fruit.

“It’s hard to describe the impact of Mary Alice Reynolds’ sacrificial act on us,” the Ringers say. “Her legacy is challenging, stimulating, thought-provoking, requiring a response: the call not simply to give but to give in a way that included and honored Aunt Adele and Uncle Roy. May the fruit of their labors in Spain continue to increase.”

Source: AG News

Battling the Drug Demons

An Assemblies of God layperson and former drug addict recently launched an outreach to support addicts and families devastated by dependency.

Earlier this year, Janelle Lanning Unger, who oversees the recovery ministry at Freedom Assembly of God in Mentor, Ohio, started VIP (Vigil, Intercession, and Prayer) Outreach to fight drugs in a spiritual manner. She says God convinced her to start VIP Outreach following a community vigil.

“At the end, as I looked around, people were still grieving, still looked hopeless and sad, and it didn’t provide any closure,” Unger says.

She spent the next two days in prayer.

“The Lord gave me the idea of VIP because everyone is a very important person to Him and should be to the church,” says Unger, who also ministers to female inmates at the Lake County Jail near Cleveland. “This epidemic is trying to wipe out an entire generation, and it’s time we unite community and church.”

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, overdose deaths, particularly from prescription drugs and heroin, have reached epidemic levels. More than 4,000 people in Ohio died last year due to unintentional drug overdose.

Unger, 51, is no stranger to the drug scene. In her early 20s, she became addicted to cocaine, ecstasy, and crack.

At 24, Unger gave birth to a son but she resumed using drugs and continued down a destructive path. But a year later, she accepted Christ at 25 at Lakeshore Assembly of God in Mentor, was delivered from drugs and has been sober ever since. However, she says she has a close family member who has struggled with drugs for nearly 13 years, including the last nine to heroin.

“My heart is with the hurting, the forgotten, the struggling, the hopeless, the addict,” Unger says.

VIP at Freedom Assembly has drawn more than 100 people in each of its two gatherings so far. A third intercession outreach, which is supported by some other area churches, is set for January.

Because of interacting with Unger and VIP, Lindsey Hutchinson-Kish accepted Christ as Savior and started attending Freedom AG. Unger reached out to Hutchinson-Kish, who had been jailed on drug-related charges, and invited her to church.

Hutchinson-Kish says the initial VIP event inspired her because of inspirational accounts from people formerly hooked on drugs.

“As an addict, you live in a state of constant fear and judgment,” says Hutchinson-Kish, who has been sober for a year. “It’s such an amazing feeling to know that the community and churches opened their hearts and their doors to help show support and love without judgment.”

Tonya Gillispie King, who also accepted Christ at Freedom Assembly after attending a VIP meeting, says she had been in “a very dark, depressed place” trying to cope with the loss of her husband, Justin, who overdosed four years ago.

“The support and love I received at the event was breathtaking,” says King. “I have never in my life felt so accepted and loved. I was finally able to let my grief and all the feelings that go along with losing a loved one to addiction free from my heart. They are no longer bottled up.”

Amber Strnad, founder of Northeast Ohio’s Fight Against Addiction never struggled with drugs, but she has lost friends and knows many who are in the throes of dependence.  

“This outreach gives an opportunity to hear stories of hope and deliverance, which is so powerful when it seems like we’re losing a whole generation,” Strnad says. “The testimonies given at these outreaches keep me motivated to continue the fight for those struggling with addiction.”

Freedom Assembly Pastor Jason Tatterson is a vocal supporter of VIP Outreach.

“VIP is bringing the hope of Jesus into an especially dark and immense stranglehold that Satan has had on our communities,” Tatterson says. “The vision that God has fostered in Janelle Unger, as well as many others, has put the enemy on notice that we will not allow him to continue to consume our friends and family without a fight.”

IMAGE – VIP Outreach supports include (from left) Tonya King, Janelle Unger, and Lindsey Hutchinson-Kish.

Source: AG News

A Faith-Based Pitch

New York Teen Challenge Director Jimmy Jack thinks he knows the solution to the nation’s opioid crisis: Teen Challenge.

Jack has told Trump administration officials as much, handing a 14-page report to three of them at the White House Oct. 26 when President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency. Jack also met with Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, who promised to get the report — which details the effective addiction recovery work of Teen Challenge — into Trump’s hands.

“Faith-based organizations lead the way in drug and alcohol rehabilitation,” says Jack, who, along with Miriam, his wife of 33 years, is a 1985 Brooklyn Teen Challenge graduate. In 1990, after he graduated from Central Bible College, Jack founded Long Island Teen Challenge, which now has 120 beds in three homes on 5 acres.

Jack and his friend Mariano Rivera received personal invitations to the White House to stand on the platform behind Trump as he made the declaration. Rivera — who retired in 2013 as Major League Baseball’s all-time saves leader — helped start Refuge of Hope, a Pentecostal church in New Rochelle, New York, pastored by his wife, Clara.

Rivera advised the six-member President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, a panel chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris J. Christie. The commission released a 141-page report Nov. 2 that makes 56 recommendations. The findings note that there is a critical shortage of housing for Americans seeking drug addiction recovery. Barely one in 10 people who need treatment receive it.

Jack believes the key to overcoming the shortage of treatment locales is a federal partnership with Adult & Teen Challenge that would allocate funds for a “beds and building” solution to the epidemic.

“This proposal challenges the government to intentionally engage, recognize, support, and fund bona fide, community-recognized, faith-based drug and alcohol programs for buildings and beds,” says the U.S. Missions Teen Challenge leader. “Teen Challenge is the most successful recovery program that can assist and partner with the federal government in its war against the opioid crisis.”

Citing a 70 percent proven sobriety success rate after graduation, Jack says Teen Challenge works because of its faith-based element in long-term residential treatment.

“Addicts that connect to something spiritual are more conducive to becoming rehabilitated than with medication alone,” says Jack, who has 50 family members who went through Teen Challenge. “Faith bridges the gap between healing and medication, and has the ability to do what medication alone cannot.”

While Trump’s declaration last month allows for government flexibility in grant money to fight the epidemic, it didn’t authorize additional funds. Trump is expected to send a budget proposal by the end of the year to Congress, which would have to appropriate more money. Jack hopes his report enlightens the president. In addition to Conway and Christie, Jack handed copies of his Teen Challenge proposal to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

There are 261 Adult & Teen Challenge centers in the U.S., with 8,050 beds. Jack notes that Adult & Teen Challenge is able to help clients recover for a fraction of the cost of traditional treatment programs. The cost to rehabilitate 24,000 patients in residential treatment programs would be $8.6 billion annually, Jack says. Teen Challenge could do it for $840 million, or $7.8 billion less.

“We’re not in it for the income, we’re in it for the outcome,” Jack says. “Everyone at Teen Challenge is mission-minded, not money-driven.” Typically, he notes, interns who are trained become staff members and administrators, living and eating on site.

Adult & Teen Challenge has the ability to expand rapidly because of experienced and trained leaders and an established curriculum, Jack says. But the government would need to provide the facilities.

Jack also oversees Teen Challenge centers in Albany, Brooklyn, Syracuse, and Buffalo, plus Santiago, Dominican Republic, with a combined 425 beds, including Long Island. In addition, he is pastor of Freedom Chapel International Worship Center on Long Island.

U.S. Missions Adult & Teen Challenge President Joseph S. Batluck Sr., who had input into the report given to administration officials, concurs that Adult & Teen Challenge is the leading specialist on addiction recovery in the world. 

“The methods are proven, and the six-decade track record is undeniable,” Batluck says. “At the center of every Teen Challenge is a focus on the worth of the individual, the possibility of freedom from addiction, and the importance of the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ.”

A gospel-centered approach to addiction recovery can be more effective than merely incarcerating individuals with life-controlling addictions, according to Batluck. 

“Teen Challenge has a program to meet addicts at their point of need, whether it is detox, clinical counseling, individual life skills, or family rebuilding,” Batluck says. “Boarding schools for adolescents provide premier and life-impacting training.”

While there may be no national consensus on how to solve the opioid crisis, there is no denying the extent of the problem, or the reality of the grip of addiction.

The presidential commission’s report states that 33,091 people died because of opioids in 2015, making drug overdoses the leading cause of unintentional deaths in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.

IMAGE – Mariano Rivera and Jimmy Jack (in purple tie) stand behind President Trump during his White House announcement.
Source: AG News

New Ministry Equips the AG to Engage LGBT Challenges

I think I might be gay. My wife left me for another woman. My friend’s church says the Bible approves of homosexuality. My teacher says transgender desires are natural. I’m attracted to the same sex and I don’t want to be — help me!

For pastors, leaders, parents, or peers who have had these kind of encounters, the question is, “How do I respond compassionately, but effectively?”

The Assemblies of God has endorsed a new ministry, ReStory Ministries, that offers AG ministers and members services, education, and support on how to effectively minister to those who are affected by, tempted with, or already embrace a gay or trans identity, while not approving of it.

According to author, speaker, and ordained pastoral counselor Joe Dallas, who is a member of the ReStory Ministries Board of Directors, the focus of the ministry is to equip the Assemblies of God, from pulpit to pew, to effectively respond to the current cultural affirmation of homosexual practice and gender confusion.

“It’s all about equipping,” affirms Dallas, who is a member of Newport Mesa Church (California) AG. “We want to see our leaders well-equipped to preach, teach, and offer pastoral care on these issues.”

“There is a lot of misinformation out there in the culture, based on a non-biblical worldview,” states Jim Bradford, AG general secretary and official advisor to ReStory Ministries. “We need to be able to speak both clearly and compassionately to the issues of sexual purity, wholeness, and freedom. Silence will lose the battle for us.”

Dallas explains that in the past, homosexual practice was readily identified as a sin by Christians and was viewed negatively by the American culture, but today it is one of the very few sins clearly condemned in the Bible that is largely celebrated by the culture and an increasing number of those identifying as Christians.

ReStory Ministries aims to prepare church leaders and families to respond to the challenge of clearly explaining what the Bible teaches about homosexual practice — that it is a sin — while at the same time effectively pastoring those who experience same-sex attractions.

However, Dallas points out, these issues impact nearly everyone — from grade school children (who are exposed to pro-gay teachers and curriculum, TV programming, and Internet sites) to grandparents who may have friends or family members who embrace a gay identity. The need for church leaders and families to be ready to respond at all levels is difficult to overstate.

ReStory Ministries’ three-fold purpose begins with service. One of the first services the ministry is offering are topical webinars.

The monthly webinars begin Tuesday, Dec. 5, with Dallas leading the initial session titled, “Homosexuality and the AG: Where Do We Go from Here?” Other seminars to follow each month include: “Ministering to Those Affected by Transgender Issues (Linda Seiler), “When Homosexuality Hits Home” (Ginger Haan), “Ministering to Those Affected by HIV/AIDS” (Ron Mango), “When Homosexuality Hits a Marriage” (Renee Dallas), “Pro-Gay Theology: What It Is and How to Respond” (Joe Dallas); and more.

The webinars are free and open to all AG pastors, leaders, and members, but registration is required — simply register by clicking on the webinar event name, scroll down, and sign up.

In addition to the webinars, ReStory offers a blog and educational tools (books, CDs, and videos). The ministry also provides speakers who offer seminars for churches to educate and equip believers and church leaders, along with sermons for Sunday services. Joe Dallas, Ginger Haan, Renee Dallas, and others from the ReStory board are available to speak to local churches , district councils, and conferences.

Various ReStory board members have found one-day seminars to be highly effective. Following the seminars, many people have commented on how they now understand things at a deeper level and feel equipped to have conversations with their congregation or people in the community.

The ministry’s leadership also recognizes how vital it is to reach youth with the truth of Scripture. Youth pastors and leaders consistently express the need for resources in this area.

“I can’t tell you how many Bible-believing churches with Bible-believing youth I have spoken at, who don’t understand why I believe homosexual practice is a sin,” Joe Dallas says. “This speaks to a huge gap that we have not addressed properly with our youth, but believe me, everybody else has — the school system, Hollywood, the music industry, even the psychiatric industry — they all want to talk to our youth; why wouldn’t we be talking to our youth?” 

One of the key goals of ReStory is to develop a network of church-based ministries equipped to address homosexuality and gender identity.

“We’d like to see AG churches largely equipped with their own in-house ministries,” Dallas says. “I’m talking about equipping and networking people who can disciple, mentor, teach, and encourage people who struggle with their sexuality and to provide support for family members.

ReStory would also assist in networking the leaders of the in-house ministries as a form of community, support, encouragement, and growth.

More than a half-century ago, AG-icon Ralph Harris wrote a book called, Now What? A Guidebook for New Christians. The book is still in print because of the necessity for clear instruction on what to do next. ReStory Ministries’ purpose is to prepare AG ministers and members to be able to respond to “Now What?” questions and challenges about homosexuality and gender identity with the same type of clear, compassionate, and biblically accurate responses — and more.

But time is of the essence. Dallas communicates an additional sense of urgency as he says some U.S. states have already made it illegal to offer therapy for teens who struggle with same-sex attractions or gender confusion.

“The local church is going to become the last place of refuge for someone who is wanting to have help,” Dallas says. “We need to be ready for that.”

Source: AG News

BGMC – I Can Do That

Emily Hardy was just 10 years old when Eric Hoffman, the Illinois District Youth director, came to her church, Industry (Illinois) Assembly of God.  That day Eric shared the story of his daughter, Emma, who in an effort to raise $1,000 for BGMC (Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge), took pledges to smash eggs on her dad’s (Eric’s) head.  

Although Emily would pass on “egging” anyone, she suddenly felt the urge to make a difference, believing she could raise $1,000 as well. She devoted herself to reaching that goal by doing odd jobs, selling items, and letting people know about her desire to raise $1,000 for missions. By June, she had already met her goal!

“I thought, why stop there? So, I kept going,” Emily says. By the end of December, she had raised over $4,500 for BGMC!

For most kids, that would have been enough, but God had placed a burden for kids in difficult circumstances who also needed to hear about Jesus. This year, Emily revised her goal . . . adding a zero. That’s right. $10,000.

“I’ve sold T-shirts, necklaces, key chains, bracelets, and a (fundraiser) stuffed lion,” Emily says. “I also held a yard sale, bake sales, created and sold some canvas art, did some dog sitting, and I still help my grandfather (a contractor) with projects.” So far this year, Emily has raised more than $7,500.

Brian, Emily’s father, says Emily is well-known in the district as her efforts have been shared by Hoffman over and over again as he visits and ministers at churches.

Emily’s efforts have also influenced a lot of other kids in the church and district to follow her lead. “At our summer kids camp,” Emily recalls, “it seemed every night 20 kids would come up to me and says things like, ‘That’s so cool what you’re doing for BGMC . . . I’m going to do that too.”

To keep friends, family, and those interested in what she’s doing next for BGMC, Emily has created a Facebook page and a website to keep people posted.

Other kids at the church are also getting on board with BGMC — creating and selling all kinds of things, from crafts to baked goods, to sell and give the money to missions.

Although it’s clear that God has placed a burden for BGMC on Emily’s heart, Emily’s parents (Brian and April) and her pastor, Jon Keck, agree that the church’s culture of emphasizing missions played a part in preparing her for this calling.

Keck, who came to Industry — a town of about 450 — in 2004, says the church has always been missions minded. When he first began ministering at the church, it only had about 16 people, but they had given $13,000 to missions the year before.

Throughout Keck’s tenure at Industry AG, God has repeatedly shown himself as Faithful Provider. As the church continued to make missions a priority, it grew; as the church grew, the more money the church gave to missions.

Keck shares how God even miraculously intervened when his faith in God’s ability to provide waivered. The church was preparing to hold its annual missions convention, which would be followed shortly by the launching of a new building program.

That year he went to the church board and recommended that the church not increase its giving to missions — keep the “status quo,” he said — in order for the building program to have a healthy financial start.

“A few days later, a friend of mine called me (Missionary Jay Covert),” Keck says. “He didn’t know anything about what we were doing. But he told me he had a word from God for me. He said, ‘God wants you to know, if you take care of His missionaries, He’ll take care of whatever you have in mind to do.’ I broke down and wept. I went before the church and confessed my lack of faith and we went on to have the best mission’s convention ever we had ever had to that date.”

And the building program? The church embraced God’s message. Although the $1.5 million building took seven years to complete, it only cost $700,000 and it was finished in 2015 completely debt-free!

“Throughout the process, there were many starts and stops, but when we came to a stop, we would try to find something in missions to give to and we found that God would bless us our building program,” Keck says, still marveling. “The only way to explain it is, God blesses churches who put missions first!”

The church, which now has around 120 attending on Sundays, supports 78 missionaries with a total of around $5,500 in monthly support. Already this year, they have raised over $25,000 for BGMC plus around $5,000 for Speed the Light.

As a direct result of putting missions first, Keck believes, they’ve seen many young adults flocking to their Monday Night Young Adult program as well as seeing their Wednesday evening children’s ministry explode, with now around 150 kids attending (300 on the roll). “We are always in need of another bus so we can bring more kids!” Keck laughs.

This environment of making missions a priority, and the miracles that followed, is the environment Emily has grown up in and witnessed her entire life. Through her efforts to raise funds for BGMC, she says has made new friends, shared more about Jesus with her friends, and even invited some non-Christian friends to church — who ended up really liking it.

“Every penny counts,” she says. “No matter what you give, it’s all blessed and used by God — great things happen when that happens!”

Source: AG News

Sacrifice Leads to Healing

Single mom Malinda Mayne, 42, of Bolivar, Missouri, knew she needed to find a way to get her two teenage children to the Fine Arts Festival during General Council 2017 in Anaheim, California. For over a year, she saved each week, but as the calendar rolled closer to August, she only had enough for either 16-year-old Seth Batten or 13-year-old Sidney Batten to attend. Then she came up with an idea.

Mayne posted news about a cookie fundraiser on her Facebook page.

“I started with just sugar and chocolate chip,” Mayne says. “I had so many orders I couldn’t keep up! So, I added a few more flavors.”

Through the years, Mayne has baked specialty sugar cookies for many local events, and as special orders for friends and family. Business from her Facebook announcement proved so brisk she wound up buying airplane tickets, hotel rooms, food, spending money, and a one-day admission to Disneyland for herself, her children, her fiancé Matt Goforth, and his 14-year-old son, Luke.

“The fundraiser started in April and by the second week of May I had orders for over 300 dozen cookies,” says Mayne, who started out with four cookie sheets to keep her one oven busy. “Near the end, though, I did buy another cookie sheet!”

While she kept busy with the fundraiser, baking and delivering cookies around the vicinity, Mayne worked full-time at a candy store she had managed for two years, following two years in billing and invoicing for the firm. Mayne is thankful she learned the ins and outs of small business management, but the repetitive lifting movements necessary in the job caused severe tendonitis that made the simplest movements painful. Visits to her doctor resulted in steroid shots and steroid patches, as well as eight weeks of physical rehabilitation, but nothing helped significantly.

“I kept praying that the Lord would heal my arms, because it hurt to even lift a cup or push a button on the remote control,” Mayne says. By the time she traveled to Anaheim in August, Mayne could barely pull her suitcase along a sidewalk.

In a prayer time during one of the youth services at GC 17, National Youth Ministry Senior Director Heath Adamson asked everyone who needed healing to stand. Mayne resisted, because of it being a youth service, but her daughter insisted. Sidney prayed for Malinda three times, stopping to ask if her arms felt better. Each time, Malinda told her daughter nothing had changed.

However, when she returned home to Missouri from California, Mayne realized the pain had fled.

“It wasn’t an immediate healing, but one that happened over time,” Mayne says. “The pain no longer wakes me from sleep, and I can lift without pain now. It has been a faith-builder to all of us to see the faithfulness of the Lord.”  

Because of the success of the fundraiser, Mayne quit her job and opened her own cookie business, Malinda’s Sugar and Spice. Customers are no longer limited to sugar and chocolate chip, and Mayne still delivers.

IMAGE – Fine Arts advocates are (from left) Seth Batten, Luke Goforth, Sidney Batten, Matt Goforth, and Malinda Mayne.

Source: AG News

Looking for a Few Good Men — and Women

HOT SPRINGS, Arkansas — Tony and Kerri Ballard gather with other houseparents at the COMPACT Family Services pavilion at 3:30 on a warm late October afternoon. As they wait for the busload of students to arrive after school, Tony lifts up specific prayers on behalf of staff and the young residents of Hillcrest Children’s Home in Hot Springs, a city of 37,000 in the Ouachita Mountains.

Tony, 43, and Kerri, 40, are among the 49 employees providing care to abused and neglected children in age- and gender-based housing on a 65-acre campus. They are full-time parents around the clock, 10 days in a row, until getting four consecutive days off.

The couple greet half a dozen girls ages 6 to 10 as they file off the bus. For the next 4½ hours, the Ballards will be dealing with a cauldron of emotions at Garrison Cottage. The girls might be affectionate, mouthy, isolated, cheerful, and energetic. At some level, all are needy and demanding attention.

Diana, a wiry girl of 10, hugs Kerri, whom she calls “mom,” before she skips back to the cottage. The chattering Diana is proud that she just learned to ride a bicycle without training wheels, and that she helps keep the cottage clean. She says she isn’t so grateful that her younger sister — also a resident of the cottage — bosses her around.

After-school activities include chores, dinner, homework, showering, playtime, a snack, taking prescribed medicine, and a bedtime story. Rules posted on the wall include respecting houseparents, respecting peers, using an indoor voice, and maintaining a good attitude.

Still, the Ballards don’t primarily view their role as rule discipliners. They realize it’s paramount to provide structure and a sense of security for displaced children who may be struggling with attachment and abandonment issues.

“If we are too stern in their eyes, they see us as just like the abuser who put them here,” Tony says. “I don’t want to mess up the entire night because a child didn’t eat the beans on her plate.”

Many of the placements at Hillcrest stem from a child being removed from a situation because of physical or substance abuse or neglect. In addition to the bodily or emotional pain a boy or girl suffers, there also is the trauma of being removed from the family of origin. Some kids are in survival mode when they arrive.

“This is a mission field to an unreached people group,” Tony says. “Even if it’s a tough day, you still know you are walking in obedience.”

The Ballards have been at Hillcrest only since May, but they seem more seasoned. It helps that they earlier served as youth pastors at Open Arms Assembly in Beebe, Arkansas, and Kerri spent 9 months working for Amazima Ministries in Uganda, while Tony worked for organizations that provided orphan care in the African nation. Even so, COMPACT isn’t exactly what the Ballards envisioned.

“It’s very rewarding, but emotionally challenging,” says the patient and nurturing Kerri.

The evening meal, white bean chicken chili and cornbread, is scrumptious and filling. Everyone around the table has opportunity to share something good and bad that happened during the day.

When a child is argumentative or disobedient, the even-tempered Tony rationally explains the consequences — typically loss of certain privileges — of continued bad behavior. The girls refer to him as Daddy, Poppa, or Mr. Tony.

“I welcome them to call me whatever they choose, as long as it’s not vulgar,” says the quietly passionate Tony. “Even in the least traumatized situation, these kids still have been completely rejected.”

This night, story time in the living room before bed features the account of Queen Esther. Kids sit on couches, an ottoman, and a bean bag as Tony leans on a table and reads. The girls like to interrupt, and Tony makes sure insults hurled at others aren’t over the top.

The Ballards’ 9-year-old son, Kohl, lives in a bedroom separate from the hallway housing the girls. Tony and Kerri make sure to give Kohl, who rides the school bus with the Hillcrest kids, some quality time after the girls go to bed at 8.

Because they have self-contained living quarters in the cottage, the Ballards can come and go undisturbed while not on duty, and they tend to go somewhere with Kohl on weekends. “Relief parents” move into a spare separate bedroom for four consecutive days to give the Ballards a breather.  

SEEKING RECRUITS

Hillcrest needs 10 houseparents to be fully staffed; one of the cottages is closed because COMPACT is short three couples to serve as houseparents. Both regular and relief houseparents are needed.

“One of our primary needs is for the Lord to send good quality, God-fearing people to take on this mission,” says Brian J. Page, COMPACT administrator. “It’s a tough job.”

Houseparents don’t need to be ordained pastors or missionaries. A college degree isn’t required. They must believe in Jesus as Lord and adhere to Assemblies of God doctrinal beliefs.

“Ideally, we are looking for a husband and wife who can model what parents look like for the kids,” says Page, 46. “But we also need single men and women willing to serve in a relief houseparenting capacity.”

Page sees a large part of his role as supporting houseparents. A majority of Hillcrest’s 52 youngsters have been placed by state agencies after removal from abusive and/or neglectful home environments. Increasingly, COMPACT houses kids in therapeutic care, those who have suffered trauma beyond traditional foster care needs. Children in therapeutic care typically stay 12-18 months before returning to relatives, going into private foster care, or being adopted.

“Houseparenting can be draining,” Page says. “However, what we can accomplish for a child’s eternity is immeasurable.”

TRANSITIONAL LIVING

Baron and Regena Way, both 42, have been houseparents at Hillcrest for 5 years, working most recently with the five residents of the Transitional Living Center (TLC), an independent apartment building. Residents who age out of Hillcrest at 18 can stay an additional 4 years if they are enrolled in college or in a career development plan.

The Ways provide transportation to jobs, school, and appointments, as most of the transitional residents don’t own a vehicle.

“We’re just there to help them be prepared for living in the real world,” Baron says. These young adults may have missed out on basic life skills. The Ways teach them how to drive a car, budget, shop for groceries, do laundry, cook meals, prepare a résumé, and balance a checkbook. The young adults pay modest rent, but the money is deposited into an account that is returned when they leave.

The Ways also try to provide a sense of community, offering a regular dinner night, game night, and movie night for residents.

Baron found COMPACT ministry appealing after being laid off as a building materials distributor office manager, a job he held for 15 years. Regena had child care experience. The Ways have been longtime volunteers at Hot Springs First Assembly of God, and he actually taught some of the boys now in TLC years ago in Royal Rangers. Hillcrest kids attend Wednesday and Sunday services at the church.

The Ways have two sons, Logan, 17, and Hudson, 10. For 3½ years, the Ways oversaw high school boys at Hillcrest.

“Our kids had to learn how to share us,” Regena says. “A lot of the time, residents’ needs came first.”

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

Jason and Abbey Lundy, both 33, became Hillcrest houseparents in June, and currently watch six boys, ages 12 to 16. They have their own 12-year-old son, Zach, officially adopted at age 9 after living with them for 3 years. Zach had half a dozen placements in the previous 2 years.

“Zach is adjusting to sharing us,” Jason says. Having a child with foster care experience living with his adoptive parents has benefits and drawbacks at Hillcrest, according to Jason.

“He has flashbacks, being in the system in a similar environment,” says Jason, a former police officer and a children’s residential worker. “But at times he can assure the other boys that things can turn out all right.”

The Lundys have been married a decade. Nine years ago, Abbey says God assured her in a church service that she would be mother to many children, even though she is unable to conceive.

“I’m not their mom, but I’m being mother while they’re here,” says Abbey, an Evangel University graduate and former elementary as well as middle school special education schoolteacher. “The biggest piece is learning to stay calm no matter what they’re doing. A calm face and a calm voice helps them to calm down.”

When either Abbey or Jason becomes frustrated to the point of exasperation, the other takes over.

“We can only break down their defenses by building relationships,” says Jason, who is obtaining a Master of Theological Studies from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary  at Evangel. “Even if we’re just giving these kids a vacation from the hell they’ve gone through, we’ve accomplished something.”

Source: AG News

Laying it Down — a Tribute to Veterans

As a kid I remember when the Traveling Memorial Wall for the Vietnam War came through Eugene, Oregon. I understood that the memorial was a tribute to the fallen and those who were still missing in action from an era my parents had lived through. I studied as much as I could about the Vietnam War and those turbulent times in our nation and noted that it took more than 20 years after the Vietnam War for the memorial wall to be built in Washington, D.C. But the war that it stood for seemed to be a world away and so many years ago, before I was born. I just couldn’t fully grasp its significance. I didn’t think I would ever be the one visiting a war memorial with the names of my brothers and sisters on it.

But later, war became my reality. I served as a Marine in Iraq from 2007-2008 and in Afghanistan in 2009 as a field radio operator in 2nd Battalion 8th Marines, an infantry unit. I spent a lot of time training with men from around the nation. We were forged together in a deep bond of brotherhood and camaraderie. Most of us were young and thought we were invincible.

During combat, I saw young boys become men overnight. They became responsible to carry the burden of making life and death decisions. We banded together, becoming very close through our experiences and the miserable conditions that we endured. We surrendered every part of ourselves for others. I didn’t fight for myself, but for them. Their names became very important to me because in a short amount of time it was as if I knew nearly everything there was to know about them. It was important to know them and do all I could to help them out so that we could make it home. In uniform we called each other by rank and last name.

Almost daily we stood in formation for roll call. When our rank and name was called, we responded by saying, “Here,” or “Present.” When we lost someone we would conduct a ceremony called the “Final Roll Call” at their memorial service. Several names would be called out one at a time, usually the names of those who were closest to the fallen. Those friends would respond to the calling of their name. But when the name of the fallen service member was called out there would be only silence. The rank and name would be called out again, still with no response. Then on the third and final call of the fallen’s rank and full name, it would be called out loudly with a salute. Nearly every time we did this I would feel the Spirit of God surge through me with hallowed goosebumps as the names seemingly floated away into the air. I thought I would leave behind those names at the Final Roll Call.

I didn’t know how important it is to honor my fallen brothers by having their names preserved until recently. At times the difficulties I dealt with after my time at war made me so jaded and disenfranchised that I would try to forget those names. But no matter how many therapy sessions I did or tried not to do, my brothers’ names would come up; they were part of me. In all honesty, I didn’t know what to do with their names.

Then my wife told me about the Middle East Conflicts Memorial Wall in Marseilles, Illinois, nestled alongside the Illinois River. Etched into its granite walls are the names of every U.S. service member who has died in the Middle Eastern conflicts since 1979. It is the first war memorial that gives honor to the fallen while we are still at war. Every year after Memorial Day more names are added.

My wife planned for our family to stop at Marseilles this summer on a trip to Iowa. She knew I had carried burdens with me since my time in war, experiencing its curses because I had brought the war home with me. I didn’t know what to expect when visiting this memorial because there my wars were on record. But I became quiet as I did in the long moments when my platoon was heading into dangerous combat zones. A deep sense of introspection engulfed me.

Once on the grounds of the Memorial Wall, you can enter a fallen hero’s name into a computer log and record your visit to them. The log directs you to the wall panel where their name is carved. My wife and kids went on a walk to give me some time to process – or perhaps it was to heal. I looked up some of the names from my unit, some I knew personally and others that I didn’t: Hall, Chrobot, Lasher, Xiarhos, Christensen, and Sharp, among others.

I was prayerful and mindful the whole time, thinking how peaceful the location was. Although a Midwest storm was beginning to brew and light rain fell in the distance, the river remained calm. I searched the panels looking for my brothers’ names while honoring the names of the ones I didn’t know. We were all connected through brotherhood.

Standing alongside the wall, I sensed that I was on a brief pilgrimage. I touched the names, quietly praying to God. Latent emotion rose within me – the pain, the anger, the frustration, the struggles, and the darkness I had been wrestling with from my time in Afghanistan. I thought about the families who no longer had a mom or dad or brother or sister. I thought about the young men I served with who didn’t return home to a celebration, but gave the ultimate sacrifice. I didn’t cry for myself, but for them.

I told God that I wanted the burdens I had been carrying from war to be left at the wall next to the calm waters. I’d lost track of time, but then my kids started running towards me and a great hope stirred within my heart as I hugged them tightly and somberly walked back to our van. I was different. Something changed within me. A burden was gone and I felt a peace I hadn’t felt in the years since my Middle East conflicts.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

 

 

 

Source: AG News