Royal Family Kids Camp: Hope Amid Horror

The following first-person article is by Misty Elliott. Misty and her husband, Bryan, are AGWM missionaries in Wales. Please pray for the Elliotts, their ministry, and every child they will serve in the 2018 Royal Family Kids Camp later this month.

HISTORY

Royal Family Kids Camps started around 30 years ago in Orange County, California. It is a five-day summer camp specifically for children (ages 6-12) from the foster care system who have experienced various types of abuse and neglect. They are truly “the least of these” in our own communities. They are often living right next door to us, yet go unseen.

Children who attend Royal Family Kids Camps are children who have been locked in closets, slammed against walls, burned with cigarette butts, and have experienced horrific sexual abuse. Ours are the children who have been discarded and treated as if they matter to no one. Once they are in foster care, everyone around them is being paid to be with them.

That’s one of the things that makes Royal Family camps so special. Volunteers spend a week of their vacation time to treat our campers like royalty and show them they matter and are loved, not only by camp sponsors but also by the God who created them.

Royal Family Kids has grown to include more than 200 camps in the United States, with others overseas in countries like Chile, Ghana, South Africa, Australia, and Wales.

ROYAL FAMILY KIDS UK: HOW IT BEGAN

We (Bryan and Misty) were Chi Alpha directors at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, when God called us to plant churches in Wales. Our good friends Scott and Tricia Murrish, who pioneered Royal Family Kids Camps (RFK) in our local church, later became national staff for RFK. We began to dream together about starting RFK out of the churches we would plant in the United Kingdom.

As we prayed, we began to increasingly sense that this was no longer just a dream, but rather, God’s call for us to push back darkness by sharing God’s love with children who had experienced unthinkable horrors. We moved to Wales in 2011 and planted Capital City Church in the capital city of Cardiff.

In 2015, we began to lay the groundwork for Royal Family Kids UK. It was slow going, with much resistance. Because there was nothing like it in the UK, and because it was an extension of the church, we were met with suspicion and skepticism almost everywhere we turned. Our meetings with social services were unproductive. Church leaders admitted they thought it was just too big. Numerous people said we would never pull it off and that social services would never sign off to give us the children.

Additionally, our church plant was not big enough to staff the camp, and the camp budget was much larger than the church’s entire yearly budget. We just kept reminding ourselves that if God had called us to start this, then He would provide all we needed. His heart is for the children we wanted to serve.

We continued to pray for connections, provision, and miracles. We talked about RFK everywhere we went and networked with many other churches, foster parents, and social workers. Doors began to open, and others began to catch the vision. We began to see miraculous provision. As we prayed for social workers to sign off allowing children to attend, the signatures began to come in.

In August 2016, 45 volunteers from many area churches served 22 children at our first Royal Family Kids Camp — the first not only in the UK, but also in Europe.

This Aug. 12-17, our third year, 65 adults will serve nearly 50 children from local councils across South Wales. Social workers are seeing the difference a week at RFK makes in the lives of the children. Now they contact us, asking us to please take all their children to camp!

WHAT CAMP LOOKS LIKE

The week at camp is packed with nonstop life-changing experiences. Morning activities start with Breakfast Club. There we incorporate action songs that specifically speak into children’s situations. We sing songs about how they are not forgotten, that they are beautifully and wonderfully made, that God made them, loves them, and is with them no matter what they are going through. We also sing songs about the hope they can have for their future — that God has good things for them, no matter what their life looks like now. We then have story time, where the children learn about people like Joseph and Esther who had to go through some pretty hard, scary things, but God was with them the whole time and had wonderful plans for their lives.

The days are also packed with a carnival, talent show, water games, animals, and craft activity center. On the Thursday of camp, every child gets a birthday party. Often when children are in foster care, things that would seem normal to most children don’t happen. Many children who attend RFK have never had a birthday party, so we go all out for the RFK birthday party. Every child gets a cake with their name on it, gifts, games, and loads of other fun.

Most of us have many photos of ourselves as children, but many of our campers have no pictures of themselves growing up. They’ve been moved from place to place, often carrying what few clothes and belongings they have in a black trash bag. During the week at camp, the camp photographers put together a memory book for each child full of pictures of all their favorite memories. Children also receive a duffle bag for their belongings, and an mp3 player with all the camp songs preloaded.

MOVING FORWARD

Currently, our campers come from all over South Wales, but this is just one small part of the UK. As of 2017, there are about 6,000 children in foster care in Wales, and about 68,000 children in foster care in the UK. The task is huge. We need churches all over the UK to step forward to serve the children in their own communities.

To this end, we’ve just applied to be a registered UK charity and are forming a national office which will be tasked with expansion. We have a vision to see new camps start all over the UK so that more and more foster children can experience the life-changing love of Christ.

Once a summer camp is firmly established, year-round clubs and mentoring programs are the next step. We’re looking to launch these in the next 18-24 months. We also have a vision to see RFK expand into the rest of Europe. Poland will have its first camp starting this summer, and we’re praying it will be the first of many.

Pray with us.

For more information on Royal Family Kids Camp, visit www.rfk.org or www.rfk.org.uk.
Source: AG News

Thai Soccer Team Rescue a True Miracle

When a Thai soccer team and its coach got trapped inside of a cave by flood waters in northern Thailand on June 23, it wasn’t long before the world’s media took notice. Over the next 18 days (June 23-July 11) of the team’s fight for life, heroes — both out front and behind the scenes — were made, but key leaders agree, the miraculous success of the mission has “divine intervention” written all over it.

A few days after the soccer team was trapped, Master Sgt. Derek Anderson, a 15-year U.S. Air Force veteran and Air Force Special Tactics pararescueman stationed in Okinawa, Japan, was told his unit was being called upon to support the Thai government in an “advise and assist” role to the rescue effort. He was both confident and curious. As part of an elite unit, he and his unit had trained for and experienced all kinds of perilous rescues, but the details of this rescue challenge were unknown.

Within eight hours, the unit was on a MC-130J military transport plane. They arrived in Chang Rai, Thailand, at 1 a.m. on June 28. By 2 a.m. they were standing at the mouth of the six-mile long Tham Luang cave where the 12 boys and their soccer coach were trapped somewhere inside.

A MISSIONS BACKGROUND

Derek, 33, is used to challenges. The son of Tim and Debbie Anderson who were appointed as AG world missionaries to Ecuador in 1986, Derek grew up seeking adventure over comfort, excitement over ease. And with the jungles, mountains, tribes, and wild animals of the tropical “equator country,” adventure and excitement were always within easy access.

The name “Derek” means leader of the people, but he was not an “easy” child to raise, his mother admits with a laugh. “Whatever the risk was, he was willing to take it. But he’s always been a leader in whatever he’s doing, and has a gift for looking at a situation, accessing it, and solving any problems with amazing speed.”

His father, Tim, a risk-taker himself who to this day regularly goes on extended jungle treks to evangelize tribes and establish and build churches in Ecuador, sees a lot of himself in Derek as adventure has always called him as well. “I would take the boys [Derek and his brother Philip on 12-hour hikes into jungle villages to share the gospel,” Tim says. Both of Derek’s brothers, Philip, 31, and Matthias, 28, are also serving in the U.S. Air Force.

TEAM FOUND, REAL CHALLENGE BEGINS

But even with all the military training and jungle experiences, Derek, who was the senior enlisted leader for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command rescue team sent to Thailand and one of the rescue operations primary planners, says he’s never run into a challenge like the one that faced him in attempting to advise and assist the Thailand government in the rescue of the soccer team. The team was trapped inside when monsoon rains unexpectedly hit and quickly flooded the cave’s entrance, which was also its only known exit.

Prior to Derek and his unit’s arrival, a pair of expert cave divers from Britain, Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, had begun to explore the flooded cave, searching for the team. As Derek assisted in the development of a chain of command in order to help coordinate and facilitate rescue possibilities, he met with the British cave divers, who started to explain the extreme challenges the cave presented in even finding the boys and their coach, much less getting them out.

After days of laying lines in order to find their way into and back out of the cave’s murky waters and narrow passageways, Stanton and Volanthen (who were later joined by fellow Briton Jason Mallinson as well as elite cave divers from Finland, Canada, Australia, and Denmark) finally located the soccer team – 10 days after they had disappeared and nearly two miles inside of the cave, temporarily safe, hungry, but otherwise healthy, on a rock shelf above the flood waters.

Mallinson admitted later in an interview that he was confident they would get the team out, but getting them all out alive was a different story.

“While talking to the divers from Britain, they told me it was one of the five most dangerous caves they’ve ever been in,” Derek says. “The water was cold, flowing quickly, and muddy — zero visibility — with deep recesses and narrow passages. It was a difficult journey for anyone but expert cave divers. There was no way boys who may not even know how to swim could dive out of there . . . we considered it our last resort.”

In addition to dive teams, there were multiple teams and hundreds of searchers looking for other access points to the cave. Also, heavy oil drilling equipment was available if they could find a place to attempt to drill down an estimated 400 (in a valley) to 1,500 feet (nearer the mountain top) to reach the team. Large pumps were also brought in to help bring down the cave’s water levels, but they struggled to keep up.

However, when locals identified and diverted rivers and streams from flowing towards and into the cave, the water level began to drop. The pumps were able to make enough progress to bring down the water levels to make entering the cave easier, but not enough to gain access to the team.

Although the boys were two miles deep into the cave, the entire two miles were not underwater. Instead, Derek explains, there were areas where divers could wade or swim across followed by dives of 30 minutes or more that, in some places, went steeply down and then sharply up in narrow passages. After the British divers laid the line, the divers immediately following them (Thai Navy SEALs) had to grasp the line with one hand while feeling for jagged or protruding rocks with the other — most of the time, even with intense headlamps, divers could only see 6-12 inches in front of them. In conditions like this, losing track of the guide line could easily end up costing a diver his or her life.

For former Thai Navy SEAL, Saman Gunan, the conditions did prove too treacherous. While delivering oxygen tanks inside of the cave for others, whether he lost contact with the line or something else went wrong, he ran out of air and perished.

THE ONLY OPTION

But the rescue efforts had to move forward if the soccer team was to be saved. As part of the communications process, the team divided the cave into nine chambers in order to better communicate where rescuers were and supplies were needed. Divers began to move air tanks deeper into the cave system during a break in the rain on Sunday in order to assist the expert divers as well as prepare for the potential of having to dive the team out.

“During one of their visits to the cave, when the British divers and Thai Navy SEALs brought in MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) for the team to eat, we also sent them in with an oxygen sensor, which registered 15 to 16 percent oxygen at the time,” Derek says. “You have to keep in mind, in addition to a low oxygen level, the boys were in a confined area and the stench from their excrement was pretty intense” as stated by Stanton when he initially located the team.

The four Thai Navy SEALs stayed with the team, with one being a medic. In addition to working to keep the team’s spirits up, they had also brought heat blankets and medical supplies. In the meantime, the U.S. rescue team alongside numerous other rescue volunteers and cave divers worked to make a potential dive extraction as successful as possible by creating pulley and harness systems, gathering needed supplies, and continuing to “dive in” oxygen tanks where needed in the cave chambers.

For a period of time, now that the soccer team was found and had food, officials were considering leaving them in the cave for three or four months until the monsoon season had passed, then the team could simply walk out. However, when Derek had his career field medical director/doctor consult the New York Fire Department and learned that at below 19.5 percent oxygen level they were required to use air tanks, he knew the soccer team’s time was running out.

With no alternative access to the cave found, the drilling option no longer considered viable due to time and topography challenges, oxygen levels potentially lowering even more, and a new storm system on the way that would make the success of a dive rescue even more improbable, the U.S. contingent sat down with Thai officials and the British/Australian dive teams and developed a plan. In order for it to work, they would need five more expert cave divers and one of them needed to be an anesthesiologist. Remarkably, the British divers knew of two expert divers in relatively nearby Australia; one, Craig Challen, was a veterinarian, and the other, Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris, an anesthesiologist!

Derek was a member of a smaller Thai-led team that met with the Thai general in charge to explain the situation, their plan, and ask permission to attempt the dangerous dive rescue as it appeared to be the only viable option, slim as it was. The team also requested the Thai government to connect with Australian authorities to contact the two Australian divers as they needed them here “ASAP” for the plan to work.

PREPARING FOR THE RESCUE

The general took the request to the Thai governor who escalated it to the Thai Prime Minister. After reviewing all options, assessing the risk and likelihood of a successful rescue effort, the Prime Minister gave the green light to the team’s best solution that still came with great risk to the children and rescuers. Other rescue options placed the survival of the children at an even lower level.

As divers continued to bring in oxygen and additional equipment to strategic positions within the cave system, all those to be involved inside of the cave for the rescue attempt started rehearsing the attempt outside of the cave to work out any problems and resolve any questions.

As Dr. Harris made his way to the boys to prepare them for what was to come, the rescue team repeated the rehearsal the next day at a local swimming pool, using parentally-approved volunteer children about the same size as the trapped soccer players, and did a fully equipped rehearsal in and under the water.

What is remarkable about the rescue attempt was that if just one of many things that could go wrong went wrong, people would die. There was no room for error or even the unexpected. Yet, miraculously, the right people, the right weather, and the right equipment kept falling into place at the right time.

 

THE ATTEMPT BEGINS

The British cave divers explained that it was imperative that the boys be sedated by Harris — if the boys were alert and panicked underwater, which could easily happen in the murky, dark depths of the flooded cave, they would likely drown and potentially take a diver with them. Other things that could go wrong included a boy’s full face “positive pressure” air mask malfunctioning or being knocked loose by a jutting rock while they were sedated, illness (boy or diver), the pumps failing, rain coming sooner than expected, the line breaking, head lamps failing, air tanks malfunctioning, the sedation being too great or a boy having an allergic reaction to it, the bungie cords used to keep the boys’ arms and legs from moving freely could snag or break, the pulley system used to transport the boys by stretcher over dry and difficult portions of the cave that weren’t underwater could fail, the sedation wouldn’t be enough and a disoriented boy could awaken and begin to struggle, a diver could injure himself on a jutting rock while trying to protect the boy he’s rescuing, and the list goes on.

Each boy was breathing 80 percent oxygen and there was generally one diver per boy. The divers took turns holding a boy with one hand and the line with the other. Rescue divers pre-positioned in the cave acted as a safety system in case problems arose as the divers with the sedated boys made their way through the intricate underwater cave passages.

“After each diver and the boy they were transporting came up into the third chamber,” Derek says, “there was medical staff or pararescue personnel waiting to check each boy’s vital signs and make sure everything was okay before continuing on.”

Despite all the opportunities for failure, the first day was a total and stunning success that no one on the dive team fully expected. The dive team debriefed after that, made a few adjustments, and then went after the second set of four boys.

“We were having such amazing success, that I became concerned about complacency,” Derek recalls. “We discussed amongst the divers about the real potential of some of the boys not making it out alive and how we had to keep emotion out of it and stay professional — we still had lives depending upon us.”

The next two rescues went just as perfectly as the first . . . , but to illustrate how close the attempt was to failure, just as soon as the coach and the last four boys made it to the mouth of the cave, and with two of the four Royal Thai Navy SEALs still making an underwater dive and making their way out from where the boys were discovered in Chamber Nine, an interior water pump failed and Chambers Two and Three of the cave quickly started to flood. Personnel in those chambers were ordered to evacuate immediately while a handful of rescuers waited to receive the last remaining Thai SEALs.

As the final SEAL surfaced, he and the remaining international rescue team members, some with underwater breathing devices and some without (due to the previously dry, but now rapidly flooding, chamber), had to contend with a subsurface dive that was quickly filling up to become a completely submerged subsurface dive from Chamber Three to Chamber Two before finally reaching the mouth of the cave and the hundreds anxiously waiting their arrival. With only seconds to spare, the remaining rescuers avoided catastrophe in the final minutes of the rescue as they slipped out of Chamber Three and safely out the mouth of the cave.

“One more day of intense rains and those remaining kids and the coach would have been trapped in there for months,” Derek said. “Death would have been almost certain.”

GOD GETS THE CREDIT

As the world celebrated the Thai Navy SEALs for their heroic ability to lead and assemble an international rescue effort to save the team and its coach, a small collection of rescuers, including Derek and a handful of other U.S., Australian, and British divers, came to agreement that this was no ordinary rescue.

“People all over the world were praying for the team’s rescue,” Derek says. “We all felt that there had to be supernatural intervention to have this outcome. For me, I absolutely know there was divine intervention, that God enabled every one of us to perform at the best of our abilities, that He held back the rains. The situation could have ended drastically worse, but it didn’t.”

Retired Army Col. Chaplain Scott McChrystal, the military representative and endorser for the Assemblies of God, states, “The challenges facing the Thai SEALs, Derek, his teammates, and the others involved in the rescue effort cannot be overstated. The teamwork was virtually flawless. But at the end of the day, it is clear, that God made the difference between success and failure. God expects us to do our best. He does the rest.”

Back in Ecuador, Debbie was aware of her son’s efforts, but Tim had been on a two-week trek into the jungle and only knew that Derek and his team had been brought in. When he learned of the success of the mission and the obstacles overcome, he agreed with Derek. “I’m just amazed at God’s hand in the whole thing,” he says. “Without the Lord, it could have gone very, very badly.”

It should be noted that U.S. special operations, pararescue airmen have trained for, witnessed, and lived experiences that go far beyond the limits of normal physical and mental endurance. The school they attend just to start training is referred to as “Superman School” in the military (it’s that difficult), which is then followed by seven additional training schools that few could even dream of passing. It’s no exaggeration when they are referred to as among the best of the very best in the world and have a mindset that they can accomplish anything asked of them.

Yet for Derek and others who are among the best in the world with their medical, rescue, and diving skills, the reason for the incredible success of the rescue has only one answer.

Derek explains it simply: “God had His hand on this operation.”

*Editor’s note: to view a television report, which Master Sgt. Derek Anderson, senior enlisted leader for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Thai Cave search and rescue team, believes is the most accurate television report on the rescue to date, see the 4 Corners report, Out of the Dark. A later report done by ABC 20/20, One Way Out, in July was viewed as similarly accurate.

Photos by U.S. Air Force Capt. Jessica Tait
Source: AG News

More Than a Week of Lessons

A decade ago, one thing about typical summer vacation Bible school bothered Maricela H. Hernandez, so much that she decided to do something about it.

“Vacation to me means the whole time you’re off from school,” says Hernandez, associate pastor of Family Christian Assembly (formerly Centro Cristiano Familiar Paraiso de Palmas) in Peñitas, Texas, two miles from the Mexico border. In the Texas Rio Grande Valley, summer break lasts all of June and July. It’s a prime opportunity for children in the community’s hardscrabble working-class neighborhoods to learn that Jesus loves them. And with 44 percent of Hidalgo County children living below the federal poverty level, they need access to meal programs those two long months.

Hernandez, who also is director of Flames of Fire Bible School in the town of 4,600, took her burden to the Lord: Help us do something for the children while they’re on vacation.

Family Christian Assembly partners with rotating teams from Assemblies of God churches and other congregations on short-term mission trips for the summerlong VBS tailored to low-income families. Meals, sports, crafts, and Bible classes serving 100 to 120 children are provided each day. Kids come to faith in Christ, become part of the church, and get equipped for ministry. And as most VBS participants are from large families where older children often act as caregivers for younger siblings, this VBS offers care for babies so their brothers and sisters can take part.

“The first thing God provided was the food,” says Hernandez, who also is secretary-treasurer for the Texas Gulf Hispanic District. “The school district worried these children wouldn’t be eating and knocked on our door asking if we would open our facility all summer to offer a place where our children would be fed.” Daily, the school kitchen cooks breakfast and lunch. The school sends its own cafeteria employees to the church to set up, serve, and clean up. (Texas schools may partner with faith-based charities, such as Family Christian Assembly, for community projects.)

Hernandez, 49, visits colonia families, both churched and unchurched, learning needs, offering prayer, and asking parents’ permission for their kids under 18 to attend the VBS. A church bus picks up the children.

In July, Sonia Bermudez, associate pastor of Emanuel Assembly of God in Lufkin, Texas, brought the church’s third team to Peñitas to teach Bible. She says the Holy Spirit convinced her to postpone an international mission trip to answer Hernandez’s call for help.

“VBS participants are seeing that they matter to someone,” Bermudez says.

Sergio Robles,18, the oldest of his eight siblings, began going to VBS eight years ago after Hernandez visited his home. Neither parent attended church. At first, learning about the Bible didn’t interest him; he went because of the meals and to play soccer. By age 13, his friends began taking illegal drugs. Their arrests scared him, and he started going to Wednesday youth and Thursday family services at the church. His brothers and sisters began attending VBS.

At age 16, Robles gave his life to Christ. He has attended the Texas Hispanic Gulf District youth convention three times and leads fundraising for Family Christian Assembly’s Speed The Light ministry. He also is involved in children’s church and meals outreach.

Today, six of his siblings remain active in the church. After ongoing prayer by those visiting from Family Christian Assembly, other relatives and neighbors also attend the church. In contrast, two of his friends arrested on drug charges five years ago remain locked up.

“Here there’s a lot of opportunity to get into trouble,” Robles says. “Nobody else really is coming to help the community but the church of the pastora. She invites families to church and gives them food. They come to know the Lord.”

Robles knows the outreach made an impression on him.

“Without it I would be into drugs, in jail, lost,” he says.

Youth who come for short-term ministry discover God’s call on their lives. Kimberly Balderas, 24, from Eagle Pass, Texas, attended Flames of Fire Bible School for three summers and helped with VBS. She remembers a hardened 6-year-old named Amy who initially refused to listen. Now 8, Amy and her mom are both part of Family Christian Assembly.

Syria Solano, 26, came to Peñitas from another denomination for a short-term mission to work at VBS. She connected with Flames of Fire, was baptized in the Holy Spirit, and, like Balderas, went on to Southwestern Assemblies of God University. Solano has graduated and is now Hispanic pastor in a church in East Texas.

“She’s our firstfruits of those kids here in Peñitas,” Hernandez says of Solano. “I know there’s a lot of work here, but the Lord is raising up an army of workers that are now blessing other districts.”
Source: AG News

Hispanics Anticipate the Future

HOUSTON — The greatest story of the Hispanic Assemblies of God is still being written, but it will only be realized once multiple generations embrace one another, align with the heart of God, and work toward a common purpose, Executive Presbyter Melissa J. Alfaro declared in a fiery and forceful closing consecration service Aug. 3 at the Hispanic Centennial celebration.

In sermons looking toward the future of the Fellowship, Alfaro and General Superintendent Doug Clay wrapped up the three-day gathering at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“If we disconnect our past from our future, we either end up with a nostalgic church, or a contextually displaced church,” said the 36-year-old Alfaro, the youngest member of the 21-member Executive Presbytery. “In order for the church to be effective in its mission, the past and present must converge, and the young and old must embrace, in a united effort toward ‘generational synergy.’”

Christians miss many blessings because they surrender to the limitations of circumstances rather than surrender to the power of God, according to Alfaro, who serves as senior pastor of El Tabernaculo in Houston, with her husband, Jay.

“Our voice is not just to teach our children a history lesson, it’s to empower the next generation for their divine assignment,” said Alfaro, who has been Texas Louisiana Hispanic District Girls Ministries director the past eight years. “Our history should not only speak to what God has done but should prophetically infuse passion, vision, and hope in our children so that they can do more!”

Alfaro said if young people are unfamiliar with their spiritual heritage, they won’t have the wherewithal and confidence to conquer the challenges that await them.

“We cannot allow fear or spiritual laxity to cause us to contract spiritual amnesia where we forget the faithfulness of God,” Alfaro said.

Alfaro told the pastors and other ministry leaders that it’s their responsibility to speak about the power of God to children. The faithfulness of one generation to communicate what God has done is imperative to the victories of the next generation, she asserted.

“Biblical history shows us that we are always one generation away from promise — or demise,” Alfaro said. “Voiceless fathers and mothers will produce powerless sons and daughters. Your voice, your worship, your faith, your prayers, your speaking in tongues are connected to the protection and preservation of a generation!”

While pastors and other ministry leaders can lead, it takes a father and a mother to raise an influential generation, Alfaro said.

“Our children and youth are the generation that seeks the authentic and the supernatural,” Alfaro said. “They are not content to just hear stories of the past. They want to experience it for themselves. And that determination will make them a mouthpiece in these moments of crisis.”

In April, Alfaro gave birth to her first child, Jay David Alfaro III. Speaking at the centennial on her 16th wedding anniversary, she called the birth a miracle from God after struggling for years with infertility.

In his closing remarks, Clay commended pioneer Henry C. Ball, who, right after he became a Christian at the age of 14, began evangelizing Latinos — even though he knew no Spanish.

Ball became an Anglo missionary who co-organized the original AG Hispanic convention a century ago. He went on to serve as the first superintendent of the Latin America District Council in 1929 until a decade later.

“Your destiny is determined by God, and that destiny is set when He decided when and where you would be born,” Clay said. “Our destinies are connected. You have a destiny that’s tied with the Assemblies of God.”

Clay cautioned attendees not to miss God’s plans by following their own ambitions instead of the path the Lord has designed, whether that’s becoming a church planter, inner-city educator, or missionary to a Muslim-dominated country.

“If you keep placing your will under God’s will, then you will do the will of God,” Clay said. “If you will give the Holy Spirit prime space in your life, He will keep your dream in focus.”

Christians must align their plans with God’s intentions for them, Clay stressed.

“Don’t let fear cause you to abandon your dreams,” Clay said. “Your dreams determine your destiny. God is giving you a dream this week. Don’t settle for the American dream; capture God’s dream.”

Dennis Rivera, director of the Office of Hispanic Relations, proclaimed that the U.S. Hispanic Assemblies of God is set to become a sending church rather than being a scattered church. The 14 Hispanic district leaders announced a series of short-term and long-range goals. One vows to work more closely with the Missouri-based Assemblies of God national office.

Among the Hispanic districts’ goals to reach by 2030, are 1 million conversions, $10 million in missions giving, and1,000 churches planted.

Source: AG News

Pick Up Your Mat and Walk

HOUSTON — Hispanic leader Samuel Rodriguez urged listeners to reject past constraints and lay claim to God’s promises at a combined service of Hispanic Centennial and National Youth Ministries Fine Arts festival attendees Aug. 2 in Houston.

The gathering combined the enthusiastic worship of Latinos of all ages and the fervency of youth from various ethnicities. A crowd of 6,837 assembled in a trio of cavernous exhibit halls in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, replete with 10 giant video screens. For nearly an hour, attendees sang worship choruses and hymns in both Spanish and English.

Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the nation’s largest and most influential Latino evangelical organization. He said he found it intimidating, yet providential, that he could address the first-ever combined gathering of the AG Hispanic constituency and the entire denomination’s young people. He said he believes the two groups stand poised to define American Christianity in the 21st century.

“The future of American Christianity lies primarily in the hands of this emerging generation and the Latino demographic,” an animated Rodriguez said in a rapid-fire, rousing address in the midst of the pair of converging events. The crowd responded frequently to the message with cheers, applause, hand waving, and laughter.

The high-profile Rodriguez — a former district youth director — pops up on cable news talk shows occasionally and has been called to the White House on more than one occasion. Rodriguez also is lead pastor of New Season Christian Worship Center in Sacramento, California. He was a featured speaker at last year’s Influence Conference in Anaheim, California.

Lately, Rodriguez said, Satan has targeted both Hispanics and youth, and that can lead to a perpetual state of stagnation. He said the enemy can paralyze Christians spiritually, emotionally, financially, and relationally via myriad methods: sin, failure, fear, the past, shame, religious condemnation, self-pity, victimization mentality, poverty, erroneous thoughts, abuse, broken relationships, unforgiveness, and unbelief.

Christians shouldn’t allow themselves to be stymied by permitting others to define them, said Rodriguez, whose primary sermon text focused on the man healed at the Pool of Bethesda after 38 years of being an invalid (John 5). As a sermon illustration, an 18-year-old lay prone on a mat on the platform until the end of the message.

“The enemy of grace, truth, and love desires to paralyze our future by definitions of the world by nomenclatures and descriptors assigned to us that do not line up with God’s prophetic destiny and purpose,” said Rodriguez, 48. “The enemy will paralyze us if we are not certain about our identity.”

Followers of Christ aren’t defined by their surroundings, circumstances, failures, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, Rodriguez asserted.

“You are defined by what God already did for you,” Rodriguez declared. “The Cross, empty tomb, Upper Room, His blood, His Word. We are the Church of Jesus Christ and the gates of hell shall not, cannot, and will not prevail against us! Hallelujah!”

Rodriguez said naysayers will be surprised to discover in the end that millennials and Generation Z — those born since 2000 — won’t be the most unchurched, non-Christian swath in American history. Likewise, the narrative that Latinos lack the viable social economic bandwidth to provide leadership to a broken world is false, he said.

“I am believing by faith through Christ that you will never be paralyzed again,” Rodriguez told the gathered. “Because you know who you are in Christ. And You know who Christ is in you!”

Above all, that means not being defined by skin color, he said.

“You are, above all, a born-again, blood-washed, Spirit-empowered, devil-rebuking, demon-binding, atmosphere-shifting, righteousness-pursuing, child of the living God!” Rodriguez said. “Paralysis ends right here and right now, forevermore.”

Rodriguez asked the audience to demonstrate faith by standing up and making declarations to be rid of past failures and to anticipate future blessings, symbolically flinging a mat off their shoulders.

“From now on, you and your ministries will see what you could not see before,” Rodriguez proclaimed. “You and your family will achieve what you could not achieve before.”
Rodriguez pronounced the grip of repeated failure, depression, chaos, sin, anxiety, and strife to be over.

“Paralysis will end today and forever more!” Rodriguez said. “Stand up, pick up your mat, start walking.”

Rodriguez brought Joyce Smith of suburban St. Louis on stage, to explain how her son, John, died in 2015 —for over an hour. The reserved Smith explained how she yelled in a hospital, asking the Holy Spirit to resurrect her son. A heartbeat began immediately on a monitor.

Breakthrough, a motion picture depicting the miracle will open on Easter weekend next year. Rodriguez is executive producer.

Only then did Rodriguez reveal the identity of the man on the mat on stage: John Smith.

“There is a purpose for my life and this generation,” said John Smith, adopted from Guatemala as a youth through ChildHope.

Source: AG News

Meeting Hispanic Needs in Kentucky

In 2015, Kentucky Ministry Network Superintendent Joseph S. Girdler felt a nudge from the Lord to develop a specific ministry to the growing number of Spanish-speaking constituents in the Bluegrass State.

Girdler talked with Zollie Smith, then-executive director of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions, about recruiting a bilingual and multiethnic missionary to pilot the initiative in Kentucky.

Smith discussed the matter with then-North Texas District Superintendent Rick DuBose, who connected Girdler with Fabian and Rebekah Sanchez, at the time serving as U.S. missionary associates. In February 2018, Fabian and Rebekah, who are now U.S. Missions Intercultural Ministries candidate missionaries, moved to Kentucky to direct the network’s Hispanic Initiative.

“God orchestrated all the connections and laid it on my heart as well as Rebekah and Fabian’s hearts to reach our Hispanic communities,” Girdler says.

The goal of the Kentucky Hispanic Initiative is to inspire and equip congregations to start and develop healthy, Spirit-led Latino ministries. A strong area of concentration will be in rural communities. After the Sanchezes analyze needs, they want to equip ministers and laypeople to develop ministry to Hispanics. They plan to equip leaders by developing video and online training, as well as training manuals that demonstrate how to maximize relationships and resources between Hispanic ministers and Anglo churches.

Rebekah, 30, grew up in rural Kentucky and interned with Bill McDonald, AG world missionary in Ecuador. McDonald connected her with Girdler.

“The biggest challenge is building unity between the two — Anglo churches and Hispanic communities,” Rebekah says. “Showing the love of Christ in a tense political climate builds unity and is a rewarding adventure.”

“There are a lot of pastors who want to reach Hispanics and their entire community,” says Fabian, 39. “If we partner with them to provide the avenue for the Holy Spirit to work, then He will do the rest.”

Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority group in the U.S. and there are over 40 million Spanish speakers in the nation. Around 4 percent of Kentucky’s 4.4 million residents currently are Hispanic.

The Sanchezes want to break down cultural barriers so that recent Hispanic immigrants understand their need for Jesus. The couple want to ensure that established churches have the resources and practical applications to start or maintain an active and healthy Hispanic ministry. They hope to recruit bilingual and multiethnic ministers to work in rural churches.

By 2045, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that 25 percent of the nation’s population will be Hispanic.
Source: AG News

Transitioning to the Next Generation

HOUSTON — Hispanic leaders Nino González and Danny de León Sr. talked about the importance of effectively imparting the faith to a new generation in morning sermons Aug. 2 at the Hispanic Centennial celebration in Houston.

González, superintendent of the Florida Multicultural District, said Hispanic churches are in an important transition of conferring wisdom on younger leaders.

“We have something to transmit to the next generation,” said González, a former member of the AG Executive Presbytery. “We’re saying, now it’s your turn to run the race that we ran.”

The two generations are like sprinters in a track relay race, González said, and both need to ensure that the baton is passed carefully. One of the risks of dropping the baton is that an entire generation could slip into idolatry, warned González, who is senior pastor of Calvario City Church in Orlando, Florida.

Young people aren’t most interested in new worship songs, church programs, or high-tech gizmos, according to González.

“They want to see God’s power manifested,” González said, who preached primarily in Spanish, using a translator. “Gifts of the Spirit are no respecter of age.”

De León preached on a similar theme, speaking about passing the mantle to the next generation. He cited biblical examples, from the prophet Elisha picking up the cloak of Elijah to Jesus imparting the Holy Spirit to His disciples.

Hispanic Pentecostals have come a long way since the early days of being viewed by much of society as ignorant, crazed, low-income nobodies, said De León, who is senior pastor of Templo Calvario in Santa Ana, California. He compared Hispanics to weeds, growing everywhere to encircle the globe with the gospel. Templo Calvario has established 99 satellite congregations in the U.S. and Latin America.

Perhaps Pentecostal Hispanics could lead a much-needed revival across the U.S., said de León, an executive presbyter.

In a symbolic demonstration, de León and other Hispanic district officials placed shawls on the shoulders of younger Hispanic ministers and missionaries, and prayed over those who knelt.

MISSIONS LUNCHEON

At a missions luncheon in the afternoon, two members of the six-member Executive Leadership Team based in Springfield, Missouri, spoke to a crowd of 700.

Malcolm P. Burleigh, executive director of U.S. Missions, urged churches to encourage young people to consider becoming missionaries.

“This is the time for Hispanics,” declared Burleigh. “The door is wide open.”

Greg Mundis, executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions, noted that in 1914 AG pioneers resolved that the Fellowship would be the greatest evangelism tool the world had ever seen. God has blessed their faith. Today, AGWM ministers in 256 countries, territories, and provinces with missionaries serving in over 190 visa-giving countries. Globally, the AG network numbers over 69 million adherents and more than 370,000 churches.

“Our reach and our partnerships are unprecedented,” Mundis said.

In its 100-year history, Hispanic districts have sent 89 AG missionaries around the world. More than half of those — 47 — are currently on the field.

In just the past four years the 14 Hispanic districts have commissioned 27 new missionaries through AGWM, with 19 of those going to unreached people groups.

“The mindset of the past is that it was too expensive to send missionaries through AGWM and Hispanic missionaries should go to only to Spanish-speaking countries,” Mundis said. “All 27 missionaries from 2014 until today have raised their budget in the allotted time or faster and the Holy Spirit has called them to the difficult harvest fields of the world.”

Giving by Hispanic districts to AGWM exceeded $4.2 million last year, jumping from $2.5 million in 2012. Giving through the South Central Hispanic District based in Springdale, Arkansas, totaled $1,161,250 to AGWM last year. The current uptick in Hispanic world missions bodes well for the future, Mundis believes.

“We rejoice in their obedience to God’s call and our combined stewardship of their call,” Mundis declared.

Nevertheless, Mundis said the task remains daunting. More than 3 billion are unreached with the gospel.

“Isn’t this 100-year celebration our opportunity together with God to raise up an army of Hispanic workers to reach into the vast, untouched, and unreached harvest fields of the world?” Mundis asked. “Will you pray that your children, your parents, your pastors and workers in the church will hear the call of God to be sent into the harvest fields of the world?”

Mundis thinks the century mark of the founding of the Hispanic AG can be a springboard for further evangelistic efforts in obedience to the Great Commission.

“In God’s divine plan, we are in this season of history to be the generation that bridges our differences, celebrates our commonalities, leverages our passion for Christ and His Kingdom advancement, and together depends on the Holy Spirit to call, enable and empower a new generation to reach the world with the gospel,” Mundis asserted. “We are better together!”

Source: AG News

Time to Wake Up

HOUSTON — A crowd of 1,800 gathered Aug.1 for an evening service commemorating the centennial of the formation of the Assemblies of God Hispanic organizational convention.

Latinos from around the U.S. gathered at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston to kick off the three-day celebration. The organizational meeting for Hispanic AG congregations took place in January 1918 in Kingsville, Texas.

Hispanic ministry has blossomed into 14 districts across the nation, with Latinos now comprising 23 percent of the AG’s 3.2 million adherents in the U.S.

In a dramatic representation, one by one the 14 Hispanic superintendents laid a memorial stone in a heap representing their districts. Dennis Rivera, director of the AG Office of Hispanic Relations, introduced the superintendents and explained when each district formed. The display symbolized a centennial milestone for the Hispanic districts, much like the Israelites placing 12 stones while crossing the Jordan River en route to the Promised Land (Joshua 4). Several of the superintendents also spoke briefly at the service.

In an interactive re-enactment, the service opened with a scene depicting a teenaged Henry C. Ball knocking on doors in Texas, inviting Hispanics to church — even though he only knew one phrase of Spanish. Ball later became an Anglo missionary who co-organized the original AG Hispanic convention a century ago. He went on to serve as the first superintendent of the Latin America District Council in 1929 until a decade later.

The opening service featured keynote speaker Wilfredo “Choco” De Jesús, one of the Fellowship’s 21 executive presbyters. De Jesús is senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago. With 17,000 adherents on multiple campuses, it is the largest AG Hispanic church in the U.S.

While De Jesús acknowledged the commemoration is a historic moment in the AG, he cautioned Hispanic pastors and other leaders not to grow complacent. He said while Ball couldn’t conceive the notion of 14 distinct U.S. Hispanic districts, in another century there could be 50 Hispanic districts across the nation. De Jesús developed themes from a sermon Ball preached 90 years ago on “There’s a Dream for the People of God.”

“We cannot stop dreaming, but we must wake up from our sleep,” De Jesús said. “There’s an enemy that’s after your dream. You’ve got to wake up from your slumber.”

De Jesús urged the audience to avoid becoming smug because of the accomplishments of the past century, but rather to appreciate much is left to do. He urged ministry leaders to keep following the Acts 2 pattern of teaching truth, fellowshipping, breaking bread together, praying, and seeking signs and wonders. And to stay alert and prepared.

Falling asleep is usually a gradual process, and the same can be said of spiritual torpor, De Jesús warned. From Samson not recognizing his strength had been sapped to Jesus’ disciples failing to stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane, De Jesús cited biblical examples of people who let their guard down before disaster struck. He suggested ministry leaders sometimes are spiritually snoozing without even realizing it: not praying, worshipping, or reading the Bible as much as before; lacking the passion for lost souls; failing to see the need for compassion for those around them.

The evening also included a brief tribute to revered Hispanic pioneer Jesse Miranda, dubbed “the granddaddy of U.S. Latino Protestantism” by Christianity Today.

Sergio Navarrete, superintendent of the Southern Pacific District based in La Puente, California, called Miranda a trailblazer, bridge builder, and breach closer in various ways that gave Hispanics more of a voice in the traditionally overwhelming Anglo U.S. Assemblies of God.

The 81-year-old Miranda, who noted that he met Ball as a 16-year-old Bible college student, recounted how Hispanics had no place at the national table in his early ministry years. Now as the largest and fastest-growing constituency in the Fellowship, Hispanics in many ways are shaping the Fellowship’s future.

Miranda served as the first Hispanic executive presbyter in the AG. He is founder of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California.

Although all worship took place in Spanish, speakers alternated addressing the audience in English and Spanish, but all remarks were translated.

The centennial has the theme “Rich Legacy, Fresh Vision,” the name of a new book written by Rivera and his predecessor, Efraim Espinoza.

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — Aug. 3, 1958

Sixty years ago delegates from the U.S. Assemblies of God as well as representatives from many other Pentecostal organizations were preparing for the Fifth World Conference of Pentecostal Churches scheduled to convene in Toronto, Canada, at the Coliseum Arena of the Canadian National Exhibition, September 14-21, 1958.

An article in the Pentecostal Evangel announced that the opening speaker on Sunday morning would be Lewi Pethrus, the well-known pastor of the Filadelfia Church in Stockholm, Sweden. Even though Pethrus had hosted the fourth Pentecostal World Conference in Stockholm three years earlier, it was important to introduce him to the readers of the Evangel.

Lewi Pethrus (1884-1974) was a former Baptist pastor in Sweden who became the leader of Pentecostalism in Sweden. The article gave an overview of his highly successful ministry. It said at that time he was 74 years old and the pastor of “what is believed to be the largest Protestant church in Europe.” His church was organized in 1910, starting with 29 members. By 1958, according to the article, the church had an “adult voting membership of 7,000 and has a major responsibility in the support of 400 overseas missionaries.” The building could seat more than 4,000.

In addition to his preaching activities, the article said Dr. Pethrus, in 1916, “initiated the publication of Evangelii Harold (Gospel Herald), a religious weekly with a circulation of 60,000.” It was reported that in 1945, in collaboration with Karl Ottoson, a Swedish industrialist, Pethrus “founded Dagen (The Day), a daily secular newspaper which in 1958 had a circulation of 25,000 and was sold on newsstands throughout Sweden.”

He also founded the Filadelfia Church Rescue Mission, the Filadelfia Publishing House, and the Filadelfia Bible School.

In an effort to assist Christians in money matters, in 1952, Pethrus took the lead in establishing a savings and credit bank which could help to finance many church projects. Pethrus also won a moral victory in 1955 when the Swedish government radio system held a monopoly on broadcasting. They reserved the right to censor content of religious broadcasts and also forbid the establishment of any private radio station. Lewi Pethrus took steps to organize an independent radio association to broadcast from Tangier, North Africa. The government tried to block his efforts, but when the matter was discussed in the Swedish Parliament, after much debate, he received approval to use this radio station to send broadcasts into Sweden.

IBRA Radio (now IBRA Media), international Christian broadcasting and media group founded by Lewi Pethrus, currently broadcasts Christian programs to more than 100 countries, including Sweden.

Lewi Pethrus continued as pastor of the Filadelfia Church until his retirement later that same year in 1958. He remained an active voice in the Pentecostal movement until his death in 1974 at the age of 90.

Read more about Lewi Pethrus in “Swedish Leader to Preach at World Conference,” on page 15 of the Aug. 3, 1958, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Crisis in the Classroom,” by Charles W. H. Scott

• “Pentecostal Outpouring in Rangoon,” by Glen Stafford

• “A Man With a Jug of Water,” by Victor R. Ostrom

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

A pictorial report of the “Fifth World Conference of Pentecostal Churches” can be found in Oct. 26, 1958, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel on pages 8-11:

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
Source: AG News

Boko Haram Horror Leads to Life

Four. Fourteen. Fourteen. Lydia Pogu remembers that day vividly — and her sleep is often still interrupted by even more vivid dreams of that life-changing date. Late in the evening on April 14, 2014, Pogu and 275 mostly Christian girls were kidnapped by the Boko Haram, an Islamist militant organization, from their boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria. It was a night filled with unimaginable terror . . . and ultimately for Pogu, a still, small voice.

Pogu, who was 16 at the time, knew all too well how the Boko Haram treats those who violate their extreme views. Reports of kidnappings, rape, beatings, mass killings, executions, being burned alive, and captives made into sex or labor slaves were commonplace as the Boko Haram ravaged the countryside, with thousands of Christians suffering their wrath.

Pogu explains that earlier in the day, two men approached the school on a motorcycle wearing military garb. “I thought they were there to protect us,” she says. Instead, the men were disguised in order to prepare the way for other members of the group to pillage the school.

“It was about 11 at night when I began to hear gunfire and girls screaming and crying,” says Pogu, who is the sixth of eight children in her family. “There was a lot of noise and confusion. They threatened to kill us if we didn’t do as they said.”

The terrorists started lighting things on fire and stole vehicles in order to transport the girls. Pogu and her friend Joy Bishara were crowded in with other girls onto the back of a truck that was also carrying barrels of gasoline and other stolen items from the school and town.

“They drove us for a long time, we were so scared,” Pogu says. “We didn’t know where we were or where we were going.”

It seemed that they were in the truck for hours, but it was difficult to tell how far they had traveled.

“In Africa, the roads are not like they are in the United States,” Pogu says. “They are made of dirt and very bumpy — so our truck was not going really fast.”

As the girls inside of the truck clung to each other for safety and in fear, Pogu says that she began to hear voices in her head. One of the voices was telling her to stay in the truck, that she would be safe and everything would be okay; but the other voice — there was something about that voice that appealed to her — was softly urging her to jump from the back of the truck and escape. She turned to her cousin who had also been kidnapped and told her the plan, but she was unwilling to jump — too afraid what might happen to them if they were caught.

The truck they were in was at the back of the convoy, followed by militants on motorcycles. When the motorcyclists suddenly sped up to assist with something ahead, Pogu and a friend leapt from the back of the truck, safely tumbled onto the road, and then quickly ran into the nearby thicket. Bishara would jump soon after. Pogu’s cousin, to this day, remains a captive of the Boko Haram.

“As a child growing up, we always went to church, my dad even worked at the church,” Pogu recalls, “but I wasn’t close to God. I didn’t understand what God was all about. I went to church because that’s what my family did.”

But when she heard that soft voice telling her to escape, she instinctively knew that God was speaking to her.

Pogu explains that several other girls also jumped from the back of the truck, but many of the girls were in vehicles that also had militants in them, were covered tightly, or in cars where it would be very difficult to successfully jump out and escape.

Although Pogu and her friend made it safely into the thicket, their fears were not eased. They had no idea where they were, they didn’t know if the militants were searching for them, and the African thicket is not a safe place. Unknown to them, the militants had driven them toward or already into the Sambisa Forest, a game reserve and a gathering place for the Boko Haram. Poisonous snakes, leopards, and wild dogs were all real threats.

But for the two girls, wild animals were never a problem — the thicket was. The bushes and short trees that make up the Sambisa Forest are known for their hard, sharp thorns. Soon the girls were streaming blood as thorns pierced their hands, ripped through their thin school uniforms, and sliced their bodies, arms, and legs. Undeterred by the pain and spurred on by fear of being shot or captured, the girls ran throughout the night, trying to put as much distance as they could between themselves and the militants.

As dawn broke, the girls with their uniforms now in bloody tatters, met a family in the bush who had been hiding from the Boko Haram as well, but were willing to help them. The family traveled with them away from the militants. As evening approached, they encountered a person on a motorcycle who, after learning what had happened, gave the girls a ride to Chibok.

Pogu found her parents in front of the church, where many had gathered, praying and weeping for their children. Her parents, stunned and overjoyed to see her, brought her home and treated her wounds.

“Ever since I escaped from the attack, I realized that God exists,” Pogu says. “The one voice telling me to jump out, I was thinking, Wow, this is God, telling me to jump and He only wants what is best for my life!”

But saving Pogu from the Boko Haram wasn’t the end plan for God — He had much grander things in mind.

As Pogu recovered, she says many people came to interview her at the house about what really happened, especially because she could speak a little bit of English.

However, although she was successful in her escape attempt from the militants, there was no escaping the fear that the Boko Haram would find her again. Finally, she, Bishara, and a number of other girls appealed to the American Embassy and they were granted permission to go to the United States.

Once in the United States, the girls were sent to Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Virginia, though the Jubilee Campaign, which promotes the human rights and religious liberty of ethnic and religious minorities around the world. The school is described as “a place of sanctuary and education for thousands of children since 1921.” Catering to kids who have come from difficult circumstances, the school seemed like an ideal starting point for Pogu and Bishara.

In 2016, Pogu and Bishara were transferred to Canyonville Academy in Canyonville, Oregon, to complete their high school education by request of the FBI and Division of Homeland Security as questions had arisen concerning individuals using the girls’ fame to make money.

Canyonville Academy is a former AG Bible school, then it became a high school where many AG missionaries taught and their kids attended. Academy President Doug Wead says the school agreed to accept the girls, and provided the pair with comprehensive scholarships that included room and board.

It wasn’t surprising that the government reached out to the academy. The academy had a total of seven girls who had escaped Boko Haram attend the school.

“We brought in tutors and provided counselors and private counseling sessions for the girls,” Wead says. “The girls are survivors in every sense of the word. Lydia and Joy needed a lot of tutoring to make it, but they did a good job — they are hardworking girls and they love God.”

After the girls earned their GED diplomas, Wead contacted Southeastern University (SEU) in Lakeland, Florida — Wead had sent three of his children to attend SEU — to see if they would be interested in bringing the girls to the school.

“When we were contacted by President Wead, SEU President Kent Ingle immediately wanted to be a part of helping the girls,” says Dana Davis, chief communications officer for SEU. “We were able to provide them with full scholarships.”

Transitioning from the Northwest to the Southeast in 2017, Pogu and Bishara took general electives at SEU like most incoming freshmen, adjusting to the new environment and challenges as they always have.

According to Davis, the girls did well in their first year of classes and also held jobs on campus. However, it could be said that, when viewed from a “life perspective,” Pogu and Bishara have done a bit more than “well.”

In addition to attending classes, the pair have become spokespersons calling for countries to put an end to the ongoing persecution of Christians. Bishara recently spoke at the International Christian Concern (ICC) event in Washington, D.C., and to the United Nations Security Council, while Pogu accepted an invitation and spoke to leaders at the Human Rights Watch in New York. Both girls met President Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, at the White House and have communicated their concerns to him as well. SEU is starting an ICC club on its campus this fall, with Pogu and Bishara expected to be involved.

Pogu was also selected to be a member of SEU’s Student Leadership Team beginning this fall. “I want to share what God has done in my life, share that love, the Word of God, with other students,” she explains. “I want to help them understand that no matter how bad your life was or appears to be, God is still there for you.”

Yet, the nightmare ordeal surrounding their kidnapping still haunts the young women. Pogu says that during the day, the events of that terrifying time no longer trouble her. However, at night and in her dreams, the screams, the shouts, the shooting, and the fear of being captured again return all too often.

“I was able to visit my family for the first time [since 2014] last summer,” Pogu says. “I wanted to see my parents, but it was a bad situation — people were after me and I was so scared. I was so thankful to be able to come back here.”

“It was very dangerous for them to go back,” Wead confirms. “The media has made them celebrities in Nigeria . . . their faces are very well-known, making them easy targets for the Boko Haram. But despite the real dangers, they went to visit their families anyway, and thankfully made it back.”

But for how long?

“Lydia has no guarantees that she will not be sent back to Nigeria,” Davis says, “so we’re working together to raise money for a lawyer who can help her seek asylum in the United States, and then she wants to become a U.S. citizen.”

Davis says lawyers believe Pogu has a strong case for being granted asylum, and Pogu believes that God will answer her prayers to protect her and use her to make a difference.

“God has done a lot for me — He has changed my life, turning bad into good, and I’m so much closer to Him than ever before,” she says. “He brought me out of the danger to a place where everyone gets an opportunity.”

Pogu plans to continue to do her best to influence leaders and governments to work together to end the persecution of Christians. She also sees it as her role to share Christ with others.

“It hurts me a lot when people say they are atheists, they don’t have ‘a god,’ or that they were a Christian, but no longer,” Pogu says. “When I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through, how can you question that [that God is real]? You just have to have patience and faith in Him that you’ll be all right . . . because even if you don’t believe He exists, He does care for you.”

IMAGE: Joy Bishara (left) and Lydia Pogu.

Source: AG News