A Chaplain — By God's Grace

U.S. Navy Chaplain Matt Riley is one likeable guy. He’s steady. He’s compassionate. He’s dependable. He’s committed to God, family, and the U.S. Navy personnel he serves on the USS Port Royal (CG 73) currently stationed out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Chaplain Riley is not only an admired role model and mentor to hundreds of naval personnel, he is exactly the opposite of who, what, and where he should be.

Riley should be running from the law, in prison, or long ago dead. Living with his grandparents because his mother suffered from schizophrenia and his father was denied custody of their three sons, he was introduced to drugs, sex, and gangs by his older brothers by age 11.

“My grandfather was a retired Air Force major who had zero patience for children,” Riley recalls, admitting beatings were common. The boys were ultimately sent to a mental health hospital for troubled children. Foster care would follow — four homes in two years — and life after that was nothing short of anarchy, as one brother joined the Crips and the other associated with the Latin Kings in Austin, Texas.

With his two “gang affiliated” brothers as role models, it wasn’t long before Riley followed in their lifestyle — drinking, drugs, and girls.

The boys would move back in with their grandmother after their grandfather passed away, who left behind a small fortune. It may have appeared that the boys were caring for their grandmother. But in fact, without her knowledge, Riley says “incredible acts of sin and debauchery were going on.”

Drugs and drug deals, prostitutes, gang members, guns, and heavy partying that led to “cocktails” of drugs and alcohol were a dangerous combination. Riley recalls diving behind a brick barrier as a car drove by his grandmother’s home and the passengers opened fire.

In 1998, when Riley was 16, both of his brothers were in prison. His brothers’ friends became Riley’s friends — many had serious criminal pasts . . . and futures.

“There were parties at my house every weekend and sometimes even during the week,” Riley recalls. “At my disposal were incredible resources of time, money, and people who were capable of committing evil. I was in over my head.”

But then something totally unexpected happened. Riley’s girlfriend at the time asked him to stop at a local church because she wanted to talk to a friend who attended youth group there. Riley would follow her inside and there be exposed to teens truly worshipping God. He also met Pastor Kenny (PK), an African-American, who prophesied over Riley, who is Caucasian.

“I remember he came up to me and said, ‘I don’t do this very often, but God told me to tell you that He has a plan for your life,’” Riley says. PK had Riley’s phone number and started connecting with him.

“One day, he made a cassette tape and gave it to me,” Riley says. “On it, he spoke Scriptures with my name added into the verse. He told me that he knew what kind of lifestyle I was living, but no matter what I was involved with, he wanted me to play the tape every night. There were many nights, I would lie down in my bed intoxicated and still listen to the tape.”

Riley still remembers many of those verses:  “Matthew, who dwells in the secret of the most high, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty . . . , Matthew will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in Him I will trust . . . , Surely He will deliver Matthew from the snare of the fowler.” 

At the time, Riley says he had no intentions of changing his lifestyle, but in looking back, he can see how God was at work — even though Satan was doing his best to negate PK’s positive influence.

“Friends I didn’t even know I had would come by and offer to pay for the next party,” Riley says.

Riley would hit rock bottom shortly afterwards. He recalls partying so hard one night that in the morning he couldn’t move. “I couldn’t get up,” he says. “It seemed like the hand of Satan was putting physical pressure against me. I was a prisoner. Sin had me and I felt as if I was on my way to hell.”

Yet God was at work. A “divine discontentment” settled upon Riley’s life. The idea of leaving Texas became an everyday thought, ultimately leading him to the U.S. Navy Recruiting Office. Riley, with no high school diploma, on probation, and having $2,000 worth of unpaid traffic tickets didn’t qualify. However, the recruiter recommended he try the government’s Gary Job Corps to get his life on track.

Riley would wait out his probation, voluntarily sit out his time in jail for the tickets that had turned to warrants, and pay off the rest of the fines. “I can remember those days in jail as they involved a lot of prayer and contemplation,” Riley says. “When I left the jail, I no longer had a desire for cigarettes. God was changing me on the inside.”

He would enter Gary Job Corps in August of 1999. The first Sunday there, he awoke with the desire to go to church to thank God for what He had done in his life. He went to church with his roommate, who attended a Pentecostal Church of God in Christ.

“Every sin I ever committed rose to my mind,” Riley says. “Shame, guilt, and the unholy activity flashed in my mind, wanting to be released. It was a similar pressure that sat on the middle of my chest like the time I lay bound on my bed.”

Riley’s answer? “I reacted by standing to my feet before the altar call was given, before the closing hymn, determined to get saved,” he says. “I didn’t know how it would proceed, all I did know was that I wanted forgiveness.”

Riley would stand there for 15 minutes and head for the altar the moment the invitation began. The pastor and every man in the church would pray for Riley, with the pastor’s son, Wayne Thompson, a minister, ultimately becoming his lifelong friend. Thompson would help Riley get involved in the church’s prayer services, where he experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Riley would complete his GED at Gary Job Corp and immediately enter the Navy. After basic training in Great Lakes, Illinois, he was assigned in May 2000 to the USS Detroit AOE 4 (fuel, cargo, and munitions supply ship) out of Earle, New Jersey. He soon had a reputation as a hard worker and was teased heavily by the crew for his “church boy” lifestyle.

Positioned just 12 miles from Manhattan, with a view of the city, Riley will never forget the day he and his shipmates stood and watched in amazement and horror as the twin towers of the World Trade Center burned and collapsed into a cloud of ash and debris after being struck by terrorist-controlled jetliners. They would later learn that their ship was the closest to Ground Zero of all naval vessels, and would be selected to join a battle group of American warships headed to the Middle East.

Due to his work ethic, Riley was selected to attend HM (hospital corpsman) “A” School, also located in Great Lakes. During that time, he met Navy Chaplain Carl Farmer, an endorsed Assemblies of God chaplain, whose words changed his life.

“My young mind was flooded with the possibility that I could one day be a chaplain,” Riley says, excitement still in his voice. “He dialogued with me as if I were a suitable candidate for ministry. It was a most amazing conversation. I left his office full of hope for the possibility of someday being a chaplain.”

Riley would complete HM “A” School and report to advanced training as a surgical technologist. Even though he admits starting to rely upon himself more than God, God patiently tethered Riley by providing spiritual leaders in his life.

Through a series of circumstances, Riley would end up being attached to a Marine unit in Iraq, where his medical skills, sadly, were often required — and where the calling on his life to be a minister was confirmed.

One night while in prayer during a midweek service in Iraq, Riley felt God calling him into the ministry. “I said, ‘Lord, if this is Your will for my life, I will go into the ministry.’”

Instantly, joy flooded the heart and soul of Riley. He now saw himself through God’s eyes as a minister. “I talked to people about God, I prayed for people . . . and the Sunday evening before I left Iraq, I preached my first sermon!” Riley says.

When Riley returned to the States, he had just six months left in the Navy. He ultimately decided to attend Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) in Springfield, Missouri, to become a chaplain, so he called the chaplain recruiter for that region and, as God would have it, Chaplain Carl Farmer answered the phone . . . .

In Springfield, Riley connected with AG pastor and former missionary Gerald Horne, and committed to weekly mentoring sessions with him at a local coffee shop. Horne, a military veteran himself, invested many hours guiding, correcting, and honing Riley. In fact, he and his wife, Alice, even played matchmaker with Riley and their church’s worship leader.

“Pastor [Horne] seemed intent on setting us up,” April Riley recalls. “Maybe it was my rebellious inner voice, but I had no desire to be set up with a guy. At all.”

But in this case, “Pastor knew best,” and in August of 2007, a little over a year after Matt and April had first been “introduced,” they were married.

“God used my love for Him and passion for my country and combined them into a beautiful journey of Chaplaincy,” explains April, who admits she “ate crow” several times as her initial relationship with Matt grew into love. “I just had to get out of His way.”

Over the course of four years in Springfield, Matt Riley received licensure  — his M.Div — ordination and ultimately endorsement as an active duty AG chaplain.

“While Matt and April were in Springfield preparing for military ministry, I watched both grow individually and as a couple,” says Chaplain Scott McChrystal, the military/veterans affairs endorser for AG Chaplaincy Ministries, a branch of AG U.S. Missions. “They love God and people — they both have awesome relationship skills.”

Riley’s first assignment was to the US Marine Corps School of Infantry (SOI) West, Camp Pendleton, California. Within nine months he became the only chaplain at SOI with a maximum student body of 2,500 Marines. Riley would grow an evening service from 75 to an average of 300 each service.

Following that tour, Riley served with the Seabees in Port Hueneme, California, and deployed twice with them to Okinawa where he was able to pastor in Camp Shields and visit detachment sites as far flung as Palawan, Philippines, to Atsugi, Japan.

Currently Riley is the command chaplain of guided missile cruiser USS Port Royal home ported in Pearl Harbor.

“It is no wonder to me that God is using them so powerfully in ministry to the warriors and families who comprise our Navy and Marine Corps,” McChrystal says. “I consider it a privilege to have them as part of our AG chaplaincy team.” 

Riley is not who, what, or where he should be. Not even close. Instead, Chaplain Matthew Riley, happily married and with three children, proudly serves his God, his country, and the men on board his ship all due to God’s amazing grace.

Source: AG News

Trusting God for the Smaller Things

When Melinda Booze learned she needed cancer surgery in October 2014, she didn’t worry too much about the diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment regimen.

With a high calendar year insurance deductible, getting the operation scheduled before the end of December loomed as her primary concern.

Although she has no history of breast cancer in her family, Booze scheduled a routine mammogram in 2014, the year she turned 50. When a biopsy in November showed she needed surgery, Booze initially sought to delay the operation until January, to ensure that medical bills wouldn’t overlap two years, thereby triggering a second high deductible.

Although the cancer was noninvasive, medical personnel advised her not to wait that long.

Booze had the surgery on Dec. 2, allowing her to complete most of her teaching duties for the semester at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. She is assistant communication professor and school newspaper adviser.

The surgery went well. But three days later, her physician explained that cancerous tissue had been left behind, necessitating a second operation. Again, concerned about the deductibles, Booze wanted to move as soon as possible. The second procedure, also successful, took place on Dec. 9.

Nevertheless, Booze still faced six to eight weeks of follow-up radiation treatments that would spill well into the new year. But Booze’s doctor, knowing her fiscal concerns, suggested a newer but swifter form of radiation called brachytherapy. The method enabled Booze to take the therapy twice a day for five consecutive days.

Booze completed her treatments on Dec. 23.

In the aftermath, Booze never felt the need to take pain medication. Yet emotionally Booze hit a low point on her next birthday, March 20, 2015.

As she sat in her office that morning, Booze questioned whether her work mattered. Then flowers arrived from a former student. Other former students and colleagues dropped off cards and gifts.

“I was overwhelmed with expressions of love, which is not the norm on my birthday,” says the soft-spoken Booze, who is single. “God reminded me that I mattered, and what I was doing impacted lives.”  

Booze discovered later that her sadness had a chemical cause: a severe vitamin D deficiency. The depressive episode reminded the normally independent-minded and self-sufficient Booze that she needed God’s people around her. Likewise, she says she now is better able to relate to students with physical challenges.

“God knows what will get our attention and what will enable us to be obedient to what He asks us to do,” Booze says. “I hope going through the experience has made me a weight-bearing block, and not a stumbling block. I want to help people who go through ordeals much worse than mine, to point them to God and say God is faithful and His purposes are good.”

Booze has been able to share her story with others. She is one of many Christians who has discovered telling others about the disease can lessen its stigma.

Tammy Bicket, a writer and editor, has been friends with Booze for 30 years, since their days as co-workers at the Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center. Booze learned to rely more on friends such as Bicket during her cancer treatment.

“Her strength, faith, and positive attitude from the moment of her diagnosis through her surgeries, radiation, recuperation, and her continuing checkups has never ceased to amaze and inspire me,” Bicket says of Booze. “She took some pretty scary, unpleasant, and difficult things in stride. She was the ideal patient and example of courage and faith in the Lord to everyone she encountered on her journey. I felt privileged to walk with her through something so significant.”

Meanwhile, Booze is enjoying life to the fullest, having returned from a two-week trip to Scotland June 7. She continues to have cancer checkups every six months — visits she is convinced God will provide the finances for, as He did with the brachytherapy.

Source: AG News

Scamming the Seniors

As a banker and security expert, Rick Morton knows the importance of safeguarding finances. As a bivocational chaplain to senior citizens, he also recognizes the need for churches to watch out for their most vulnerable parishioners.

“Elder abuse is a growing and insidious threat,” says Morton, an assistant vice president and compliance and security officer for Brattleboro Savings and Loan in Vermont, and an endorsed Assemblies of God U.S. Missions chaplain at Vernon Advent Christian Home, a Vermont retirement community.

While all sorts of people are targets for scams in the internet age, the elderly seem particularly vulnerable.

“I have seen an increase in the variety of scams targeting resources seniors are relying on to live out their remaining days,” Morton says.

Financial exploitation — which can include anything from an unauthorized bank withdrawal to a third-party scam — costs older Americans more than $2.6 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  National Center on Elder Abuse. The agency indicates those with dementia and other cognitive impairments are especially vulnerable, suffering 100 percent greater economic losses than those without incapacities.

In a Gallup poll last year, approximately one-third of financial investors surveyed said they worry about the financial abuse or exploitation of older family members or close friends. Roughly the same number of investors reported personally knowing a victim of financial abuse or scams targeting the elderly.

In fact, nearly one in five Americans 65 and older has been taken advantage of financially, according to a recent survey by the nonprofit Public Policy Polling for the Investor Protection Trust.

“The scammers and fraudsters do not just target the wealthy, but also those with limited resources, often draining away what little they have,” Morton says. “Isaiah 1:17 calls us to defend the oppressed. We should have an attitude of vigilance in protecting our congregations and our community.”

Morton says churches can help equip seniors and their caregivers and family members so they can avoid becoming victims.

“Churches are in a marvelous position to be of assistance to the seniors in their congregation,” Morton says. “Banks are the primary financial watchdogs of their customers, but churches can offer support in a variety of ways, such as sounding the alarm about this problem and providing education. Churches should consider partnering with local financial institutions to offer training.”

Even simple steps, such as locking up sensitive financial information when visitors are in the home and ordering an annual credit report, can go a long way toward keeping assets more secure, according to the American Bankers Association.

Sally Michaud, a retired AG U.S. Missions chaplain who previously ministered at an Air Force retirement community in Crestview, Florida, says many seniors look first to the Church for guidance and support as they navigate life decisions.

“The Church has a responsibility to help their senior members in any way they can,” says Michaud, 76. “The Church is one of the major contacts that senior citizens have — and for some, it’s the only contact they have outside their home.”

Pictured: Rick Morton (right) counsels a senior customer about financial scam dangers

Source: AG News

AG Next Generation Grant Application Now Available

The application for the 2016 AG Next Generation Grant, made possible through Assemblies of God Trust and the Alliance for AG Higher Education, is now available online at AGTrust.org. Each applicant must be a graduate of one of the 17 AG-endorsed colleges, from spring 2010 to spring 2015, and committed to a full-time AG ministry position.

The AG Next Generation Grant assists recipients with payment of educational debt incurred in order to help them move into full-time ministry sooner.

“Receiving the AG Next Generation Grant has greatly benefited my wife and me, giving us the freedom to focus on the ministry we were called to do,” says Joseph Veltri. “It also has helped us to be more generous in our giving and less stressed about our finances.”

Veltri, a graduate of North Central University (Minneapolis, Minneapolis) and one of the twenty 2015 AG Next Generation grant recipients, is ministries pastor at Mount Olivet Assembly of God in Apple Valley, Minnesota.

Since 2009, AGTrust donors have helped 141 ministers and missionaries get to their place of ministry sooner through the AG Next Generation Grant.

“We believe these young leaders will effectively reach multiplied thousands of people for Christ, if Jesus delays His coming, and will help build the kingdom of God in their generation,” says Dr. George O. Wood, chairman of AGTrust and general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

The application deadline for this year’s grant is September 16, 2016. For qualifications and information on this and other AGTrust scholarships, go to www.agtrust.org.

Source: AG News

Pastor Receives New Car . . . that Seats 12?

There are few things more irritating or inconvenient than a car that keeps breaking down . . . except for, perhaps, when it’s a car that keeps breaking down during the dead of winter and you happen to live in North Dakota where the temperature dips to 20- and 30-below zero!

Unfortunately, Pastor Paul Agamiri had one of those “irritating” cars. “It broke down many, many times and I took it to repair many times,” Agamiri says with a sigh at the memory.

His church, All Nations Assembly of God in West Fargo, took note of their pastor’s struggle. So, without his knowledge, they got together and on Father’s Day, after crowning layworker Maurice Binot “Father of the Year,” presented Agamiri, his wife, and their six children (ages 4 to 18) with a new pre-owned SUV.

“I had no idea — it was totally a surprise,” Agamiri says, the appreciation echoing in his voice. “I’m so thankful for our church and the good leaders we have.”

It is not too difficult to tell that the accent in Agamiri’s deep, rich voice is not that of a native North Dakotan. In fact, he explains, he’s actually from Sudan, Africa. After fleeing the brutal civil war in Sudan, the U.S. government relocated him from a refuge camp in Kenya in the mid-1990s to North Dakota.

To the outside observer, the decision to relocate a Sudanese refugee from what might be more described as a tropic dessert, where temperatures regularly soar beyond 110 degrees, to a state that borders Canada, could be considered curious. But Agamiri has no objections.

“When I landed at the airport in North Dakota, it was obviously totally new — I had never seen anything like it,” he says. “Someone told me that I had come to the wrong place [due to the weather], but cold is better than war. America is a blessing — it’s not a tough place; war is a tough one.”

Committed to following God’s calling to become a pastor, when Agamiri arrived in North Dakota he began taking Berean courses to become an AG minister. In 2005, he launched his church in West Fargo, North Dakota.

“Paul has a wonderful vision beyond even his own ethnicity,” says Scott Temple, director of Assemblies of God Office of Ethnic Relations. “When I first went to visit his church, it was called First Sudanese Assembly of God; but when I arrived, he had placed a new church sign in front, renaming the church ‘All Nations Assembly of God.’ I asked Paul why he renamed the church, and he told me that the Holy Spirit had convicted him as they were called to reach all nations, not just Sudanese people.”

Starting from humble beginnings, the church, whose services can be described as celebratory events that lift up the name of Jesus, now sees about 300 attending every week. Agamiri says they are starting the process of looking for a new facility or building a new church as they have outgrown the current structure.

“They do a tremendous amount for their community,” Temple says. “They help with food and clothing for those in need and any given Sunday there are 15 or more nationalities represented — they are truly committed to be the house of prayer for all nations.”

Temple believes the gift of the new vehicle to Agamiri, who has come from being a refugee to becoming a successful minister, is an appropriate honor. “It’s a beautiful expression of love for this great servant of God,” he says.

When asked, a clearly grateful Agamiri says the new SUV the church bought for him seats up to seven, although they do have eight in their family. “That’s not to worry,” Agamiri deadpans. “It can fit eight, African style . . . well, actually, African style it can fit more like 12!”

. . . and Agamiri may still be laughing.

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — July 1, 1916

One hundred years ago, the summer of 1916 was bloody. The Great War, later dubbed World War I, had been raging for two years. Nearly every nation in Europe was embroiled in conflict. Political and economic turmoil and famine resulted in the death of millions.

Just a few years earlier, everything had seemed so different. Politicians and mainline church leaders had been confident that scientific, technological, and social advances would make war a thing of the past. These progressives aimed to perfect humanity through education and social change. They equated Christianization with Westernization, replacing the biblical notion of a transformative encounter with God with a “social gospel” that de-emphasized conversion in favor of cultural education.

The outbreak of war shattered these illusions of social progress. Progressives in America were divided on how to cope with this new reality. But for Pentecostals, the war merely confirmed what they already knew. Humanity was deeply stained by sin and only Christ, not culture, could save.

The pages of the Pentecostal Evangel during the war years were filled with warnings against confusing the Christian faith with national identities. The July 1, 1916, issue was no exception. In an article titled, “Light on this Present Crisis,” British pastor Leonard Newby responded to several difficult questions arising from the war.

Newby related a question: “Is it not an awful thing for one Christian nation to be fighting another Christian nation?” Newby disagreed with the assumption that a nation could be Christian. He wrote, “There is not, and never has been, such a company of people as a CHRISTIAN NATION, and never will be until the Lord comes.” Rather, he explained, “The people of God who form the mystical body of Jesus Christ are a small company of people scattered among the nations.”

Newby warned against those who advocated a “social gospel” without need of personal conversion: “They are preaching the Universal Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, instead of the need of regeneration and redemption through the blood of His Cross.”

Newby also responded to the question, “Does not this war show the failure of Christianity?” Newby stated that it did not. According to Scripture, Newby insisted, “Christianity is one thing, civilization is quite another.” He wrote, “What men and women need is not civilization merely (although God knows how much in some quarters that is needed) but they need TO BE BORN AGAIN (St. John 3:3), not to be veneered, but to become the subjects of a mighty spiritual revolution from within.”

Newby’s concern that Christians not confuse their faith with nationalism reflected not only the beliefs of the Assemblies of God at the time, but also those of many other premillennial evangelicals. This view sometimes had the effect of preventing significant cultural engagement by believers. Over time many within the Assemblies of God became leaders in the broader society, leading to further reflection about the proper relationship between Christians and national identity. However, the primary point of Newby and other early Pentecostals remains valid today: earthly allegiances should pale in comparison to the Christian’s heavenly citizenship.

Read the entire article by Leonard Newby, “Light on this Present Crisis,” on pages 6, 7, and 9 of the July 1, 1916, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “Further Incidents from the Early Days in Azusa Mission,” by B. F. Lawrence

* “The Baptism of the Holy Ghost,” by H. M. Turney

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

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

Pictured: An old French couple welcomes liberating American soldiers in 1918, after four years of German occupation.

Image by Lt. Adrian C. Duff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Source: AG News

Skate Church

Brandon Sirolli, staff pastor at Sacred Fire Ministries in Belleview, Florida, as well as a detective with the Ocala Police Department, uses skateboarding as a ministry that is transforming young people in Marion County.

It’s called Life Point — also dubbed “Skate Church” by teen and young adult patrons. The first two Saturdays of the month, from 2 to 6 p.m., Sirolli, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, opens up a 10,000 square-foot indoor skate park at One Life Fellowship in Ocala and engages with around 60 skateboarders and BMX (bicycle motocross) riders. He holds a non-mandatory Bible study, which pulls around 20 kids off the ramps. Life Point is primarily about building relationships.

“We don’t shut down the skating; we don’t want the kids to feel forced into the study,” Sirolli says. “That garners respect and response as opposed to them avoiding us altogether during that time frame.”

When the skate park closes, Sirolli, who still skateboards himself, hangs out with the kids outside.

“It’s just building relationships,” Sirolli says. “That’s the primary way to get the gospel through.”

Out of the weekend regulars, Sirolli has formed Team Zao — an inner circle of sorts —that travels to other skate parks around Florida on the third Saturday of every month. Members of this group of 20 have exhibited talent in skating (some have sponsors), but they also are entrusted to help oversee the skate park and hold others accountable.

“This is their home, their family,” says Sirolli.

The trips in the team van give Sirolli and his co-leaders opportunities for incidental ministry, too.

“We have some pretty deep conversations and discuss a lot of Scripture,” Sirolli says.

Consistent, if informal, teaching was a chief condition Pastor Allen Eastin of One Life had when he considered opening up the facility to Sirolli.

“I wanted to be sure this was a gospel-focused ministry,” says Eastin. “After meeting with him, it was clear his end goal was to use this sport to reach young people for Christ.”

Since moving into its permanent facility at One Life in March 2015, Life Point has had numerous breakthroughs. Sirolli shares that a member of Team Zao recently brought his parents to church where the boy’s father accepted Jesus as Savior and his mother recommitted her life. Sirolli also has baptized several skaters.

“Many of our regulars are recovering addicts who are staying sober because of this community,” he adds. 

The idea for a skateboarding ministry came to Sirolli in 2013, when fellow youth pastor Lewis Aran invited him to visit a local skate park. Sirolli knew the park from his police work, and every time he drove by he thought God wanted him to do something there.

Aran and Sirolli went to the park on a Wednesday afternoon and started talking to youth.

“Immediately, we saw the hunger these kids had for attention,” Sirolli says.

A few months into these visits, Sirolli learned that the park was about to shut down. That’s when he envisioned a skate park where he could share the gospel, kids would experience salvation, and God would be glorified.

Over the next two years, Sirolli, Aran, and others formed a nonprofit, secured liability insurance, and acquired ramps and rails at no cost. In early 2015, Sirolli was setting up ramps on Saturdays in the Ocala Police Department’s parking lot. That’s when Sirolli met Eastin and learned about the warehouse space. Life Point has been growing ever since.

“It’s a privilege to connect the passion of my youth with my passion for ministry,” Sirolli says.

Source: AG News

Marital Stability Factor

A recent study affirms that women who are virgins when they wed have the highest likelihood of staying married for life, while also suggesting that females who have had just two sexual partners are among those most at risk for divorce.

One surprising result of research conducted by Nicholas H. Wolfinger, professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah, shows that women with only two sexual partners are more likely to divorce than those who have had between three and nine.

In fact, the study published by the Institute for Family Studies, indicates that the 33 percent divorce rate for women with 10 or more partners who married in the 2000s isn’t much different than the 30 percent five-year divorce figure for women with only two partners, one of whom likely was her husband.

Women with 10-plus partners are the most likely to divorce, but this has only been true in recent years, according to Wolfinger, whose books include Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages. In the 1980s and 1990s, the highest five-year divorce rates occurred among women with two partners.

Wolfinger says the high divorce rate among women with two partners is the most confounding result of the study. He suspects it’s often a case of a wife questioning whether she really should have married the husband she did rather than an earlier boyfriend.

“Having two partners creates damaging comparisons: stay with your husband, or the one that got away?” says Wolfinger, who is single.

However, Linda Miller-deBerard, a Christian marriage counselor in Colleyville, Texas, believes multiple additional reasons are involved besides having exactly two sexual partners before repeating wedding vows.

“So many other factors lead to divorce,” says Miller-deBerard, who has counseled Assemblies of God pastors and couples for a quarter century. She cites a lack of communication, failure to resolve conflict, a deficiency in meeting emotional needs, inability to handle money together, not supporting each other in difficult times, and losing a faith commitment as the most common trouble signs.

“All are far more telling indicators of marital survival than history of previous relationships,” says Miller-deBerard, who has been married for 30 years.

Wolfinger notes that the popularity of “hooking up” is evidence that some young people have become comfortable with the idea of frequent intercourse outside of serious relationships. And while traditional marriage may be battered, he says it still is a promise of dedication.

“Cohabiting relationships are notoriously unstable,” Wolfinger says. “Many are unions of convenience, lacking the commitment that marriage signals.”

Wolfinger and Miller-deBerard agree that women with the most sex partners are not only more liable to split up, but also to be less happy in marriage.

“There is a long-term impact on society, however there is more of an impact for the women themselves,” Miller-deBerard says. “It’s the impact on their self-worth and perhaps on their willingness to maintain a monogamous relationship.”

Wolfinger’s exploration shows that Americans clearly engage in more sexual relationships than a generation or two ago. The number of future wives who had 10 or more sex partners has increased from 2 percent in the 1970s to 18 percent today. Conversely, the number with only one premarital partner (most often their husband-to-be) dropped to 22 percent from 43 percent.

Nevertheless, the study seems to confirm that in this era of legal and cultural acceptance of various sexual lifestyles and living arrangements, monogamous heterosexual marriage is the most stable. Wolfinger’s research indicates that only 5 percent of brides were virgins at the start of this decade (compared to 21 percent 40 years ago), yet they have the lowest divorce rates by far, ranging from 11 percent in the 1980s to 6 percent in the 2000s.

Unsurprisingly, women who marry as virgins are more likely to attend church at least weekly, Wolfinger found. Generally speaking, women with a history of multiple sex partners are less likely to be regular churchgoers.

“Virginity at marriage is a highly held belief for Christians,” Miller-deBerard says. “Christians tend to try harder to stay married and have a lower divorce rate.”

Another new report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that women who attend church regularly live longer.

Source: AG News

24th Pentecostal World Conference Coming in September

The 24th Pentecostal World Conference (PWC) will convene September 7-10, 2016, at the massive Assembly of God Bethlehem Ministry facility in São Paulo, Brazil, with Pentecostals from around the world expected to be in attendance.

Triennially, the Pentecostal World Fellowship (PWF) organizes the Pentecostal World Conference for Pentecostal and Spirit-filled leaders. It was in May 1947 that Leonard Steiner, David J. du Plessis, J. Roswell Flower, and Donald Gee organized a conference for Pentecostal leaders, which ultimately became the PWC.

Dr. Prince Guneratnam, the senior pastor of Calvary Church in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is the current PWF chairman. He encourages Pentecostals throughout the world to attend as he anticipates a powerful presence of God. “There’s going to be miracles, there’s going to be outstanding works of God in this land,” he states. “Make it a very, very special attempt to be at this conference because God is going to do some marvelous things in our midst!”

Speakers will bring a wide, international flavor to the conference as they include Guneratnam in addition to Dr. José Wellington, Brazil; Dr. Isak Burger, South Africa; Dr. Matthew K. Thomas, India; Rev. Ingolf Ellssel, Germany; Dr. David Wells, Canada; Rev. Ong Sek Leang, Malaysia; Rev. Pelle Hornmark, Sweden; Dr. Glenn Burris Jr., USA; Dr. Lee Younghoon, Korea; Bishop Elisiário dos Santos, Brazil; Bishop Charles E. Blake, USA; Bishop Dag Heward-Mills, Ghana; Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, USA; and others.

Dr. George O. Wood, U.S. AG general superintendent, is also slated to be a plenary speaker at the 2016 PWC.

“The theme for the 2016 Pentecostal World Conference is ‘Pentecost, Flame Alive!’” Wood says. “And that’s exactly what I pray will occur in the hearts and lives of all those attending — that the fire of the Holy Spirit will infuse believers with such power, such passion that it will be palpable when they enter rooms and ultimately lead to a revival that will shake the world out of its humanism and onto its knees!”

Guneratnam agrees, “Let’s pray . . . the presence, anointing, and refreshing of the Holy Spirit will transform, empower, and bless each one of us with the fresh unction of the Holy Spirit and a ‘fired-up passion’ to reach our generation for Jesus Christ.”

“We are thrilled that the Pentecostal World Conference is in Latin America this year,” says David Ellis, AGWM Latin America Caribbean regional director. “The passion to fulfill the Great Commission is spreading in Latin America, as national fellowships in many of our countries are beginning or expanding missions programs to send missionaries to some of the least-reached people groups in our world. I pray that this conference will just fuel that flame of missions from Latin America to the world.”

Registration for those attending from North America is $100 per person and covers lunch and dinner on Sept. 8 and 9 as well as admission to all plenaries, workshops, evangelism seminars, and the Sept 10 night rally. Learn more by visiting the PWC website or Facebook page.

Source: AG News

Cohabitation Conundrum

Even though studies consistently show that cohabitation is damaging to a long-term relationship, most couples now view the living arrangement as a normal prelude to marriage. 

A new Barna Group study shows that two-thirds of U.S. adults consider living together as a “good idea.” And the report indicates that regular churchgoers are nearly as likely as the unchurched to move in together prior to matrimony.

The number of couples living together before wedlock has inched up slowly in the past decade to around two-thirds of all marriages. According to the Barna Group, the number one reason Americans consider cohabitation beneficial — cited by 84 percent of those who favor it — is to “test compatibility.”

Yet Glenn T. Stanton, director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, notes that no secular research shows that cohabitation is advantageous for couples who later marry.

“No research consistently shows that cohabitation improves or enhances any measure of personal or relational well-being,” says Stanton, author of the book, The Ring Makes All the Difference. “There are few things that couples do of their own free will harm their future chances of marital and relational success than live together.”

Stanton notes that various secular studies illustrate that cohabitation before marriage:

  • Is significantly more likely to cause the couples to be poorer, even if their incomes are equal to married peers, because they manage money differently.
  • Causes couples to be more controlling.
  • Leads to higher levels of domestic violence and adultery.
  • Results in men doing fewer household chores.
  • Raises the risk of divorce.

Women tend to suffer the most in living together, in emotional, physical, and spiritual ways, says Stanton, who is based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

For the minority who view cohabitation unfavorably, the chief reasons are religious views (34 percent) and the belief that couples shouldn’t engage in sexual intercourse before marriage (28 percent).

Unsurprisingly, the Barna findings show that while 88 percent of Americans with no faith support cohabitation, only 41 percent of practicing Christians do.

Barna found that cohabitation opinions tend to mirror reality: two-thirds of U.S. adults have lived together before a wedding ceremony.

An unexpected conclusion in the study is that 62 percent of those who have attended a church service in the past week lived together without benefit of clergy before marrying.

Stanton says while people with a serious faith have tended to cohabit at substantially lower rates than non-Christians, cultural shifts plus a lack of scriptural instruction have eroded sincerely held religious beliefs.

“It comes down to not so much a loosening of morals but rather a lack of any understanding of theology of sexual domestic relationships,” Stanton says. “That is what drives people to think there isn’t anything wrong with it.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, unmarried partner households totaled 523,000 in 1970. By 2010, the figure had risen to 15.3 million. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report issued earlier this year found similar results to the Barna study supporting the notion of cohabitation.

Because cohabitation is so prevalent, even to the point of becoming an expected rite of passage to adulthood, Roxanne Stone, editor in chief at the Ventura, California-based Barna Group, says pastors may need to devise reasons beyond “it’s wrong” to reverse the trend.

“When everyone in their circles and everyone on television is living together, young people will begin to see it as benign,” Stone says. “Religious leaders will need to promote the countercultural trend by celebrating reasons to wait.”

Stanton suggests clearly teaching Jesus’ advice about marriage from Matthew 19 and Mark 10 is a good place to start. He also advises couples to be aware of the abundance of secular studies showing that cohabitation is harmful.

“It’s not only God’s Word that takes a dim view of this,” Stanton says. “It is social science research. They tell a parallel story.” 

The official Assemblies of God position states that, “Couples living together, but unmarried, should be instructed in the Bible’s teaching on marriage and guided to observe God’s law in forming a monogamous lifelong marriage covenant in Him.”

Source: AG News