Ministering at Church and Work

Sandra A. Ogunremi, 47, has been able to do exceptionally what is a struggle for many Christians: putting faith into action outside of the church. Ogunremi is an extraordinary woman who seems to be hardwired to do what is a learned discipline for most people. Interjecting scriptural principles into everyday life and recognizing what God is doing in various situations is second nature to her.

After putting her faith in Christ as a 5-year-old girl, Sandra developed a yearning to teach the Word of God. However, at the age of 8, Sandra’s father took her from Michigan, where she had been born, to his homeland of Nigeria. Sandra didn’t know it at the time, but her father had decided to take her and her siblings and leave their mother in Michigan.

When she realized what had happened, the impact devastated her. It would take many years before she re-established contact with her mother.

But as a child, Sandra found healing for the pain by reading a children’s Bible storybook. At 10, she felt compelled to started teaching from the one book that brought her peace and solace, the Bible. She started a Bible study in her neighborhood and began teaching the Word of God to other children. So many attended the Bible study that parents couldn’t get their children to do chores during the instruction.

“I just loved teaching,” Ogunremi says of her first Bible training experience. “I didn’t realize that I had a call on my life.”

As a young adult, Ogunremi began to understand how the lessons she taught impacted others. Eventually she became a respected Bible teacher at her local church.

Unbeknownst to Sandra, a young man named Ayodele had been admiring her from afar as they worshipped God together every Sunday. One day, she and Ayo crossed paths at the pharmacy where Sandra worked as a technician. A friendship developed that has led to 25 years of marriage, three adult children, and living on three continents.

The Ogunremis now make their home in Rapid City, South Dakota. Ayo and Sandra work for Regional Health, Ayo as a physician and Sandra as senior diversity consultant.

Sandra earned a Master of Science in Administration as well as a Doctorate in Health Administration from Central Michigan University. Her faith grounds her as she trains her co-workers in diversity and cultural awareness and coaches people on alleviating pain and anguish that can be emotionally crippling.

“My foundation is the Word of God, so when I educate the pillars come from there,” she says. Ogunremi doesn’t hesitate to provide coaching that is rooted in Scripture to co-workers who frequently approach her asking for prayer and advice.

As Ogunremi lives her faith in the workplace, she also helps to build up and guide others in the local church she attends, First Assembly Rapid City. Ogunremi, who became an ordained AG minister in 2011, leads a weekly women’s Bible study. Every Friday evening, a group of about 25 ladies gathers in the church’s chapel to learn from God’s Word.

“I can’t live without it,” says 36-year-old Amber L. Malloy, who has been part of the study since Ogunremi started leading it in 2004. “It has helped me become the woman of God that I am now.”

Georgina V. Hughes, 61, another longtime participant, says the study has been a haven for her. When her family experienced a tragedy that required Hughes to be out of the city for several weeks, she took comfort in knowing that Ogunremi and other women from the Bible study would be praying for her.

For the past decade, Ogunremi also has served as the Black Hills section’s women’s representative. Since 2015, Sandra has led the Women of Excellence Conference, the Black Hills section’s annual women’s gathering. Ogunremi’s sectional women’s activities give her the opportunity to bring skills that she has cultivated in the workplace into the church.

“I’m just blown away by her,” says Rachel J. Schaible, the South Dakota District women’s director. Schaible, 62, values the level of professionalism and perspective that Sandra brings to the ministry. Ogunremi’s administrative skills led Schaible to approach her about the district positions.

“She’s qualified to be the preacher at the event, but she has no problem serving at the event,” says Schaible. Almost 300 women have attended the annual conferences since 2015.

“She knows exactly what to say,” says Malloy, who considers Ogunremi a mentor. “She’s straightforward but loving. She’s no-nonsense.”

Source: AG News

Removing the Fear of the "Visitors" at the Front Door

Every year, God sends tens of thousands of people to the doorsteps of Christians to hear, for perhaps the first time, a clear and accurate presentation of the gospel. And every year, thousands of Christians turn their backs on these divine appointments because they’re afraid.

Santiago Guerrero is a former Jehovah’s Witness and the only AG U.S. missionary to Cults with Intercultural Ministries. He understands that many Christians are afraid to open the door to Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses when they knock not because they fear for their faith in Christ, but simply because they are unsure of what to say when confronted with individuals trained to share their faith, as misguided as it is.

Guerrero became a Jehovah’s Witness at the age of 12 when a neighbor invited him to a Bible study. He was a steadfast believer, becoming an editor during the summer months for the Jehovah’s Witness well-known publication, Watchtower magazine, when he was 18.

“During the winters, I worked in Corpus Christi, Texas, at a petrol chemical refinery,” Guerrero explains. “A new employee started at the refinery, who was a Christian, and we began to talk and debate. He knew his Bible very well and he led me to Christ. Six months later, I quit my job and began attending an Assemblies of God Bible school in Mexico.”

Guerrero graduated from Bible school in 1998, having met and married his wife, Margarita, at the school. At the invitation of then Northern Missouri District Superintendent Manuel Schultz, he moved to Trenton, Missouri, to reach out to Hispanics working in the numerous poultry processing plants in the district.

A year later, God opened the door for Guerrero to become the first U.S. missionary to cults, with a focus on Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Now Guerrero travels throughout the United States giving seminars in local churches to equip them to not only understand what Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons believe, but how to effectively witness and reach out to them when they come to the door.

Pastor Gary Fisher of First Assembly of God in Atlantic, Iowa, has had Guerrero speak at least a half dozen times at the church.

“I was shocked at how little people in our pews knew of those groups,” Fisher says. “We even had individuals thinking that Mormons were Christians too. But Santiago does an excellent job of using their [the cults’] literature and explaining what is wrong about it when compared to Scripture. He tells us how to speak to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, gives us materials, and points us to websites that could also help.”

Although Fisher is hesitant to give Guerrero’s visits all the credit, he does point out the “coincidence” that Atlantic, a town of about 7,000, used to have a Mormon temple and a Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall — both have closed since Guerrero started holding seminars at First Assembly.

Guerrero says that as a Jehovah’s Witness, he knocked on tens of thousands of doors and guarantees that if a person hasn’t been visited by one group or the other, it’s only a matter of time before it happens.

“I was rarely challenged by a Christian,” he recalls, “because they didn’t know how to respond. You have to understand what they [cults] believe, not just to ask questions or argue, but to share the gospel with them. They’re not going to hear the gospel in their own churches . . . instead of hiding on the other side of the door, look at it as a ministry platform to share your faith.”

In addition to holding Bible studies with local families who are Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, Guerrero also travels to debate apologists at universities. He knows that he’ll likely never convince the person he’s debating to turn to Christ, but his goal is to educate those in the audience about the cult they have bought in to or are considering — as many don’t know the full story.

“After a debate I have so many people coming up to me and asking questions,” Guerrero says. “It’s one thing to say this is what Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, but it’s another to have an authority there who is confirming this is what they believe. People don’t know or understand all their teachings and through the debates they begin to question their faith when compared to the Bible and it opens the door to witness to them.”

One of the unique ministries adventures Guerrero has was to visit the Mormons’ weeklong general conference with 5,000 CDs. “It was a six-minute CD where I shared the gospel in a way Mormons can understand,” he says. “I expected the CDs to last throughout the week, but by noon of the first day they were all gone.”

Guerrero decided to stay and talk to people for the week, but then the next day, he started getting calls — 50 families wanted to meet with him to learn more. Of those, 15 came to Christ following their meeting, with Guerrero making sure to get them placed with a local church willing to disciple them.

Although Guerrero enjoys the opportunities handing out CDs and debating afford, he says his desire is to conduct more seminars and see more church bodies get involved in grassroot efforts. He believes the key to reaching multiplied thousands more individuals and families who are willingly, but deceptively, involved in Mormonism or with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is through the local church.

He explains that too often well-intentioned Christians get sidetracked on things that are really not the key issues, such as why Christmas or birthdays aren’t celebrated. “The gospel message and how to be saved, that is what needs to be centered on,” he says, “as that is what is going to change their lives — just as in the Bible in Acts 16 when the jailor asks, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ — that’s the big question.”

As part of his seminar ministry to churches, Guerrero helps Christians understand that for a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness to accept Christ, it’s a decision that is filled with great personal sacrifice. Individuals who become Christians are often shunned by friends and family. People and places that were once warm and welcoming are now cold and condemning. It can be a very lonely and isolated existence for a convert, which is why it’s so important for the church family to provide ongoing demonstrations of Christ’s love and care for converts.

“Santiago is one of the best kept secrets in the AG,” Fisher observes. “His message impacts people’s lives and changes the way they see those who knock at their doors . . . I believe many churches are looking for someone like Santiago to teach them about reaching people in cults and they don’t even know he exists.”

For Guerrero, the question for Christians is a simple one: When God sends them to your door, will you be ready?
Source: AG News

African-American Trailblazers

Trailblazers Louis E. Walton and his wife, Gloria J. Walton, are the longest-serving ethnic minority pastors in the AG Minnesota District. They have been bringing light and hope to inner-city Minneapolis since 1970 as co-pastors of Trinity Tabernacle Assembly of God.

Louis, an Alabama native who grew up living with the realities of legal segregation, in 1958 became only the third African-American student at North Central University. Gloria, even though she hails from the largest city in the Gopher State, says more than once she became the first black person to work in a previously all-white environment. She experienced a subtler form of racism that persisted in the North compared to the South.

Louis and Gloria, who wed in 1965, launched Trinity Tabernacle five years later, becoming one of the first AG congregations in the U.S. to be led by a married African-American couple. Trinity Tabernacle, located in north Minneapolis close to downtown, is a mostly African-American congregation of 200. Louis is an AG sectional presbyter and Gloria is an inner-urban section representative for Bridging the Gap Minnesota District women’s ministry.

Both pastors are grateful for the spiritual changes born during the Civil Rights era, including a subsequent repentance in 1989 at the AG General Council of the sin of racism.

“There was repentance there from the racial tensions,” Louis remembers: “We’ve seen quite a few changes over the years, and we love all people no matter their skin color.”

The Waltons say the Minnesota District has been consistently supportive of their work in the past half century. Gloria, who obtained ministerial credentials in 1997, is grateful that the Fellowship embraces women in ministry. She also plays the church organ and assists in church administration.

At the same time, the Waltons also see room in the AG for further racial understanding, especially in the realm of music. They believe the dominant Caucasian church culture needs to more readily embrace other types of worship styles. In an attempt to further this goal, Trinity Tabernacle’s music director has been trying to pull different churches together to produce music more reflective of cultural diversity.

Music isn’t the only challenge for Trinity Tabernacle, where many of the attendees hail from a lower socioeconomic status. At times it is difficult for the church to meet its
financial needs.

Recently the Minnesota District partnered with two large predominantly white suburban AG churches, River Valley Church in Burnsville  and Cedar Valley Church in Bloomington, to pay to replace Trinity Tabernacle’s furnace.
Source: AG News

Rescued from the Brink of Suicide

Richard D. Mangone, handcuffed and guarded by U.S. marshals, entered the federal correction institution in Ray Brook, New York, on Nov. 9, 1995, to begin a 24-year sentence without parole for bank fraud and money laundering.

“I was 51 then and thought I would end up dying in prison,” recalls Mangone.

Mangone connected with Myron Walen, endorsed chaplain with U.S. Missions, who served in the facility until 1999. Mangone told the chaplain how he had accepted Jesus as Savior — before surrendering to the FBI after hiding as a fugitive for 18 months.

“Richard realized that he had done wrong and had a repentant heart,” recalls Walen, now retired from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Runaway greed and the love of money had ruled Mangone. He lived in a 9,000 square-foot mansion and paraded a small fleet of luxury vehicles worth over $1 million.

“I owned properties valued at $20 million, but with all that money I was still empty inside,” he admits. “I was always looking for the next score or hit.”

As president of the Digital Employees Federal Credit Union in Marlborough, Massachusetts, and co-founder of the now-defunct Barnstable Federal Credit Union in Hyannis, Mangone and several cohorts obtained fraudulent loans to bankroll massive investments in Cape Cod real estate. They all did prison time, but Mangone received the longest sentence ever for a white-collar crime in Massachusetts. The court also ordered him to pay $41.8 million in restitution to the National Credit Union Administration.

Instead of appearing in court for sentencing on Feb. 15, 1994, Mangone fled. He cut the electronic monitoring bracelet from his ankle before boarding a plane with $130,000 in cash taped around his body. In the process, he forfeited his bail bond of $50,000.

Mangone’s stretch on the run earned him a spot on the U.S. marshals’ most-wanted fugitives list. Ending up in Tennessee, Mangone lived high until his money stream dried up from crashing stock market investments. Alone in a dreary motel room, he decided to kill himself the next morning by guzzling a bottle of wine and piping carbon monoxide exhaust gas into his sealed SUV.

“I felt trapped like a roach in a corner,” he remembers.

While surfing TV programs during the night before his planned suicide, he spotted an evangelist preaching about Jesus on the Cross. Mangone placed his hands on the TV set and repeated a prayer along with the preacher. The next day he found a Christian bookstore and bought a Bible and teaching tapes.

For several months, he devoured Scriptures while living in a trailer in Tennessee’s hill country, but could not rouse the willpower to surrender to authorities. He even visited Burristown Assembly of God in Gainesboro, yet never spoke to the pastor. Finally, on July 4, 1995, he confessed his fugitive status to a priest in Bowling Green, Kentucky, who called police.

Mangone’s lengthy prison sentence saved his life and strengthened his faith.

“My first day in the chapel felt like a sanctuary and it was a blessing to be mentored by Chaplain Walen,” Mangone says. The chaplain introduced him to Global University and Mangone completed 18 of the distance-education school’s classes, along with numerous other studies.

“Those courses were instrumental in giving me a foundation to my faith and encouraging me to share it with other inmates,” Mangone says.

Mangone submerged himself studying Scripture, attended every chapel service, and memorized 2,000 Bible verses. He mentored inmates and won the respect of prison officials as a role model.

His nephew, Lawrence Mangone Jr., pastor of Radiant Christian Assembly of God, in Warren, Rhode Island, encouraged him with congregational prayer, visits, and mailed Christian literature and teaching CDs.

“I am so happy to see my uncle growing in the Lord,” the pastor says. “His faith is strong.”

Mangone earned early release in 2013. His daughter Jessica and sister Donna drove him to a halfway house in Boston, where he lived for one year. His first wife, Mary, died during his years behind bars. He serves the Lord with his new wife, Rosana, whom he married in 2015.

At 73, Mangone volunteers with the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services System, counseling men in federal prisons and jails.

“Jesus has changed my life and given me new purpose,” says Mangone, who is making a small dent in the court-mandated restitution by paying a portion from each Social Security check. “My future is in Christ to minister to many people in the prison environment, especially white-collar criminals who are so susceptible to attempting suicide.”

Source: AG News

Good News Opportunities

In many ways, Phoenix-born Jeremiah Thurston survived childhood as a result of the faithful prayers of his godly mother.

Thurston, his mother, brother, and sister all endured violent physical abuse from a family member during the first five years of Thurston’s life. While he experienced trauma being beaten, Thurston says watching abuse toward relatives caused even deeper emotional wounds. Lessons taught to him by his mother about the love of God kept him going.

During his high school sophomore year, Thurston became acquainted with Young Life, a ministry aimed at reaching kids from junior high through college with the love of Christ via intentional relationships with adults. The experience profoundly changed the direction of his life. Thurston quickly became friends with the Young Life leader and began to make connections that would spark a new fire in his spiritual life.

From then on, Thurston set a goal of becoming the first in his family to graduate from a four-year college, with his sole intent to be a Young Life area director.

Thurston graduated from the University of Arizona in 2012 and began serving as a Young Life volunteer in Tucson. He eventually moved to Princeton, New Jersey, with his wife, Stephanie. He met Stephanie through Young Life in 2004 and they wed in 2012.

Thurston connected with Rob Hankins, the Young Life regional director, who told him about a need at Ewing High School in the heart of an economically struggling community. The vice principal of the school welcomed Thurston with open arms in 2014.

“When we met, he just started calling kids out of class to come down to his office and meet me,” says Thurston, 36. “That’s actually how I connected with the first students at the school.”

Before long, Thurston realized the Young Life Club needed a place of its own to meet. In 2015, God divinely opened doors that connected Thurston to Frank Lovero, associate pastor of Pennington Assembly of God. Lovero offered Thurston use of the church’s youth space to hold Young Life Club meetings and events.

“I had worked with Young Life before and know what an incredible job they do of getting kids in a position to hear the gospel who would not otherwise come to church,” says Lovero. “There is a huge need for programs like that, so we were excited to support them in any way that we could.”

The collaboration has flourished into a ministry that has turned at-risk youth into community leaders. Thurston says two of the boys who originally started attending Young Life are now serving alongside him as leaders in the club.

“Casting a vision for communities that are depleted, full of crime, and impoverished to hear about God is at the core of what we do,” Thurston says. “When churches in communities catch our vision and reach out with us the way Pennington Assemblies of God did, the mission and the movement become unstoppable.”

The club has grown exponentially and now runs up to 60 kids on any given night. Pennington Assembly of God provides meeting space, plus a basketball hoop, sound stage, and use of the church’s café to help Thurston’s ministry thrive.

Pennington Assembly, which averages 150 attendees on Sundays, has been a crucial part in ministering to the community through this strategic partnership.

“My goal is to continue to cast a vision for neighborhoods like Ewing and get them connected with community resources, like Pennington Assembly, so that they are sustainable far after I’m gone,” Thurston says.
Source: AG News

Solvency, Then Ministry

R. Paul Hinzman knew he had a serious problem on his hands. In May 2015 when he became chief executive director of Teen Challenge for the Assemblies of God Illinois District, Hinzman felt excited to be part of a ministry in which he believed. Teen Challenge, a ministry of U.S. Missions, uses biblically based solutions to help young people with addictions to find hope, healing, and recovery.

Yet Hinzman also realized the ministry in Illinois had experienced financial turmoil due to an inability to pay bills.

“I thought we were going to have to shut the doors,” Hinzman says. He knew survival and retaining the ministry’s nonprofit status depended first on focusing on solvency. So Teen Challenge Illinois thinned its budget and staffing, closed its women’s program, and scaled back on its men’s programs.

Within the first quarter of Hinzman’s arrival, large donation after large donation started pouring in.

“All of a sudden we began to pay off our debt,” Hinzman says. “God was rescuing our ministry.”

After a year, Teen Challenge Illinois had regained its financial footing and reduced debt. While paying bills on time again, Hinzman shifted the concentration to ministry. The first step involved expanding the men’s program.

Because the statewide centers didn’t offer the customary full 13-month rehabilitation program, after clients participated in a four-month induction program they had to go out of state to other facilities. Now the Chicago center has become a full-service program.

“We knew we wanted to keep the students in one place for the entire time so they could experience the consistency and stability staying in one place offers,” says Brian K. Wood, executive director of the Chicago Teen Challenge center. Since expanding the program in January 2017, the Chicago center has graduated 13 students, with the goal of graduating around two dozen this year.

As the Chicago center moved forward, Hinzman turned the ministry’s sights to other potential expansions, and Teen Challenge Illinois purchased two pieces of property. The ministry bought one building in North Pekin for $120,000, which after a remodel is completed will be valued at $1 million. Teen Challenge obtained the other building, in Carlinville, appraised for $900,000, for only $150,000. Hinzman is still amazed by how God miraculously provided. The ministry paid cash for both properties.

The centers in the two new locations will begin serving clients in the fall. The Peoria-North Pekin center, led by Executive Director Randy Atchley and Operations Director Joe Rogers, will be a men’s rehabilitation, recovery, and discipleship program. The center also will provide transitional housing for those who have graduated but need a temporary place to stay.

Teen Challenge Illinois plans to reopen its state women’s program in the Carlinville building, with that program led by Executive Directors Don and Deneane Nuttall. Both properties will offer occupancy rates triple that of the other state centers, with openings for up to 50 clients each.

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — July 11, 1942

John Peter Kolenda (1898-1984), an Assemblies of God missionary to Brazil and Germany, was a man of vision who was sold out for the gospel. He pastored churches in the U.S., founded churches on the mission field, established Bible schools, started printing plants, and taught extension courses. He never grew tired of doing the Lord’s work.

Kolenda was born in Germany and lived in Brazil from ages 4 to 11 before his family immigrated to the United States. After he was converted at age 18, he began reading Maria Woodworth-Etter’s classic Pentecostal book, Signs and Wonders, which led him to accept divine healing. Not long afterwards, through the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson, he and other members of his family were filled with the Spirit.

After graduating from Southern California Bible Institute (now Vanguard University), Kolenda was ordained in 1922. He met his future wife, Marguerite Westmark, in Bible school, and they were married later that same year.

Kolenda sold cars in Los Angeles for a short time after graduation, and then after he was married he served as an evangelist for about six months, before pastoring a series of small churches in Michigan. The Kolendas raised two daughters, Dorothy and Grace Ann.

Kolenda had always felt a call to serve on the mission field in Brazil. His wife also shared that calling. He was over 40 years old when the door finally opened for him to go as a missionary to Brazil in 1939, even as World War II was breaking out in Europe. He arrived in Rio de Janeiro and rented an apartment as he became reacquainted with the people of his youth. Soon he felt directed to move to the state of Santa Catarina which had a great need for the gospel.

Kolenda started quite a few churches in Brazil during the 14 years he ministered there. When he left for his first furlough, over 100 churches or preaching points had been established.

He returned to Brazil and continued teaching at Bible conferences and served as the superintendent of the work in the state of Santa Catarina. He established a monthly publication called Messenger of Peace and provided Sunday School literature to his constituents. He also served as a missionary to Germany for 10 years. He later returned to both mission fields to evangelize and teach in their Bible schools. Through his preaching and teaching he touched untold thousands. His work in training young ministers in Brazil and Germany has significantly shaped the Pentecostal work in both those countries.

The Kolenda family made a large impact on the Pentecostal movement. One of John P. Kolenda’s older brothers, Paul Kolenda, was an Assemblies of God pastor in Illinois and Michigan. He became the father of 10 sons, many of whom went into the ministry. One of Paul’s descendants is Daniel Kolenda, who is the president and CEO of Christ For All Nations, which was established by Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke.

During World War II there was a great missions advance in South America, spearheaded by missionaries John and Marguerite Kolenda and others. An article Kolenda wrote in the Pentecostal Evangel in July 1942, called “Missions Advance in Brazil,” gave reports from several missionaries on the field.

In the article, Kolenda told how, in February 1942, he was accompanied by missionaries Virgil and Ramona Smith as they conducted two weeks of evangelistic meetings in the northern part of the state of Santa Catarina and in the state of Parana. They held special services and Bible studies among the Russian colonists who had settled there. The trip was very interesting. Taking the train, which was greatly delayed, Kolenda reported, “When we finally reached the station it was one o’clock in the morning.” The believers who met them there with wagons said they would have to remain in the station until daybreak since the river they must cross had overflowed its banks and was very dangerous. The next morning they had to cross the river in small boats and then go by wagon a few more hours to their destination. They held a camp meeting service with the believers who came. Kolenda reported, “The Lord truly met with us and we believe the results will abide.”

Missionaries Erma Miller and Lillian Flessing gave an account that the Kolendas held five services for them, with nine people getting saved, and several backsliders being restored. “Each evening saw the altar lined with people seeking God,” said Miller and Flessing, “and we feel their visit was the means of starting a Holy Ghost revival in Sao Carlos which we pray shall continue until Jesus comes.”

Read more exciting reports in “Missions Advance in Brazil,” on pages 6 and 7 of the July 11, 1942, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Give Ye Them to Eat,” by John Wright Follette

• “The World Moves On,” by Ernest S. Williams

• “Isaiah’s Consecration and Call,” by J. Bashford Bishop

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

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

Everett’s Long Journey

Chris Patrick grew up in Carthage, Missouri, and attended Oak Street Tabernacle Assemblies of God. When he decided to pursue a pastoral ministry career it came as no surprise to those who knew him.

He finished his Master’s Degree in Christian Ministries and Leadership Development in 2005 at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. But because Chris received a full-time management promotion at The Buckle, where he worked part time during school, he decided to stay at the clothing retailer to gain financial stability before going into full-time ministry. By this time, the Patricks were expecting their third child.

During the course of the pregnancy, doctors informed the Patricks that their child would be born with a cleft lip. A four-dimensional ultrasound revealed additional medical concerns with the unborn child. Kami began receiving prenatal care in Kansas City, Missouri.

But the prenatal predictions didn’t prepare the Patricks for the moments following their new son’s arrival into the world.

“The instant Everett made his entrance, he was immediately rushed out of the room, closely followed by a medical team,” says Chris, 35. Time crept as his parents awaited the newborn’s first breath.

“After two excruciating minutes, Everett took his first breath, but our relief was short lived,” Chris recalls. He quickly noticed that his son’s face was swollen. Everett had no roof of his mouth and his cleft lip was not only large, but also open. Doctors told the Patricks their infant boy had a double cleft lip and double cleft palate.

“The punches kept coming,” Kami says. The next day, the couple discovered Everett didn’t have a left eye and his right eye was half its intended size. By the fifth day of life, hearing tests determined the baby was deaf, he received a diagnosis of pulmonary stenosis due to missing a chamber in his heart, and his kidneys wouldn’t function properly.

Ten days after Everett’s birth, Chris needed to return to work in Springfield. Because of a lack of child care options, his other two children, Christian and Willow, moved 3½ hours away to live with their grandparents for four months while his wife and newborn son remained in Kansas City.

Eventually, Everett received an official diagnosis of Charge Syndrome, a rare, complex genetic disease with life-threatening birth defects.

The Patricks now live in Nixa, Missouri, with Christian and Willow. They periodically must go to Cincinnati for several days when Everett receives medical care from a specialist.

On June 7, 2018, Everett underwent a successful surgery to receive cochlear implants.

“Responses from Everett varied from crying, babbling, and quietness,” Chris says. Over the next few months, settings gradually will be turned up to allow Everett as much hearing quality as possible.

Meanwhile, the Patricks are dealing with paying Everett’s medical bills, including ongoing $30 daily feeding costs. The boy requires a special liquid diet because he can’t digest regular food as a consequence of his condition.

Nevertheless, the couple believe the story of Everett, now 4½, will be one of triumph.

“My Pentecostal background and my current relationship with the Lord has been the only solid part of my life these past few years,” says Chris, who attends James River Church  in Ozark, Missouri. “I don’t know what people do without faith.”
Source: AG News

River of Life Church: Beyond Healing to Health

In 1929, River of Life Church opened its doors in Munford, Tennessee. Almost 90 years later, with the help of the Acts 2 Journey, the church is embracing new vitality.

“One of the most profound statements presented by Alton Garrison, AG assistant general superintendent and director of Acts 2 Journey, during our first cohort session was: ‘When your memories are greater than your vision of the future, you’re dying, or have already died,'” says Greg Temke, senior pastor. “That statement just jumped out at me regarding where we were as a church.”

Greg and his wife, Bonnie, have served as senior pastors at River of Life for almost 10 years. When they took the pastorate, the congregation was still reeling from a severe church split that had taken place a year earlier.

“When we arrived, the church needed a lot of healing; church members had suffered a lot of offense from the split,” says Greg Temke.

Healing came, but the people were still dealing with an identity crisis that kept them from moving forward in health.

In January 2017, Temke decided to attend his first Acts 2 Journey (A2J) Cohort Session. To get as many people from the church involved as possible, he brought back information from the sessions to share with the elders and deacons. A leadership team of 12 people then started presenting the vision for Acts 2 at River of Life.

“The A2J helps people in the congregation begin listening to a message that the pastor is not preaching,” Greg says. “On the way home from our cohort sessions, our leadership team shared with each other non-stop what they had learned. That time together opened up a new level of thinking and communication.”

Then the leadership team helped hone the church’s mission as “A Place of Healing,” dedicated to bring healing of spirit, soul, and body to God’s people through the ministry of the Word and laying on of hands.

According to Temke, the Acts 2 Journey brought a greater sense of purpose and direction to the people who attended River of Life as well as church growth — from 220 to around 300 adherents. The congregation is also actively focusing on community outreach through food distribution, youth mentorship, Biker’s Church, and Widows Mite ministry.

“Already this year we’ve had 10 Sundays when there were just no parking spaces left,” says Temke. In lieu, the church is considering adding another Sunday worship service.

An Acts 2 Journey scholarship, provided by AGTrust, came at a time when $160,000 worth of maintenance was required at the church, including $80,000 to rewire the whole building.

“Finances were low,” Temke explains. “Without the scholarship, I don’t think we could have taken advantage of the Acts 2 Journey. I’m thankful for the investment of Acts 2 Journey scholarships from the AGTrust partners, and we’re still receiving the dividends. Hopefully, one day I’ll be one of those guys that can invest in other churches in the same way.”

River of Life Church is one of 1,135 churches that have participated in the Acts 2 Journey toward better health.
Source: AG News

Teen with Autism Impacts Church Camp

It was a late night in February when Jeremy Kuehn, 28, the youth pastor at The Assembly in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, received an unexpected text from Joe Butler. Butler, a U.S. missionary with  Intercultural Ministries, was asking permission for his 17-year-old son, Micah, to attend church camp with the rest of the youth group in June.

Normally, a quick text back welcoming a student would have sufficed, but Butler’s request required much more than that. Kuehn’s mind began to fill with questions, challenges, and the necessary steps to even get permission for Micah to attend.

Although Micah was a member of the youth group, and loved by the church and family, he is a young man with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In addition to ASD, Micah is cognitively impaired, has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and struggles with additional physical issues that could make participating in basic camp activities difficult.

Kuehn put the phone down — this was going to take a lot more than a text-message response or a brief phone call.

The next morning, Kuehn called Butler. “So, Micah wants to attend church camp . . .” he began.

Kuehn wanted to hear how Butler envisioned this coming together, and rightly so. As the camp counselor for the boys from his church, Kuehn knew he would be responsible for Micah’s well-being, which also carried legal responsibility should something go wrong. But when Butler explained that he would be willing to go as a camp worker and be there for Micah’s needs, the path to “making it happen” became much clearer.

Over the next several weeks and months, the two men worked out the details, including making a phone call to then Oklahoma district youth director, Doug Everard. The Assembly kids attend the Oklahoma district church camp because it’s two hours closer than the Arkansas district camp. Everard approved the plan, simply urging the men to do whatever they needed to do to make the experience a success.

For people with ASD, there are known, unknown, and evolving “triggers” that can cause extreme reactions. Loud sounds, large groups, unexpected or unfamiliar situations and flashing lights are some of the things that have been known to overwhelm a person with ASD and lead to an episode that could involve screaming, flailing, running, crying, collapsing, repetitive motions, etc.

Youth church camps are often associated with loud sounds, large groups, new situations, and sometimes even flashing lights — was this really the right move for Micah? Would it lead to distracting repetitive meltdowns? Would he even be able to participate much less sense God’s presence?

These were hard, but necessary questions. But God had things covered and cleared the way. For although there were concerns about Micah, in retrospect, it’s not hard to see that he was just the person God needed to accomplish His plans.

Despite all the potential trigger hazards that youth church camp comes with for people with ASD, Micah didn’t have one meltdown. For Micah, it was a remarkable week where he exceeded all expectations.

“I wasn’t sure how he was going to do with going to bed at midnight or later each night, being up at 7, and walking about 20,000 steps a day,” admits Butler, who uses a device to track Micah’s steps. “But he did well physically and seemed to be really in tune with God during altar time.”

For Micah, the week was one success after another. From praying at the altar and praying for other students and counselors at the altar to being with friends and being a part of activities, it was an incredible experience for him. And that’s not evening mentioning his skill at introducing girls to his guy friends (Micah doesn’t really have a filter, so he had few inhibitions when it came to introducing young ladies to his suddenly tongue-tied companions).

“He grew in his relationships with the youth that were there,” Butler says. “Not only kids in our youth group, but in our cabin that included boys from three other churches. He also grew spiritually, reaching out and praying for others.”

But even though Butler and Kuehn agree that the camp was a big win for Micah, it paled in comparison to what God was doing in the lives of those around him.

Kuehn knows that for teens, life is typically “all about them.” And when at church camp, that “all about them” statement is in overdrive as the camp is, in essence, all about them and their relationship with Christ.

Yet God used Micah to help kids see people with disabilities as individuals to love and include, rather than a burden to avoid.

“The guys made a real effort to include and get Micah involved in the games he wanted to be involved in,” Kuehn says. “They were caring for him, loving him, including him — and that’s hard to do with those who can’t always reciprocate, such as Micah, especially with teen-age boys. But they went to another level, including him in games and church services.”

Butler says one of the youth group girls spoke with Micah during camp, admitting to him later that she never had a conversation with Micah until that week. “She realized that Micah holds conversations differently, speaking only a few words or a sentence, saying things such as ‘You’re funny’ or ‘You’re smelly’ or even ‘You’re hairy’ in order to start a conversation.”

Kuehn recalls how on the last night of camp everyone was down in front during worship, and one song had the teens moving quickly back and forth in front of the stage in a mass crowd — something Micah, with impaired motor skills, physically was unable to do.

“The guys literally picked him up and ran back and forth with him so he could be a part and not get run over,” Kuehn says. “I saw my guys living out Christ in a tangible way — it was incredible to see.”

But this just wasn’t a hit and miss ministry to Micah. Butler says that within the first day, he could already see the other boys making a special effort to include Micah and watch out for him. So, instead of spending the majority of his time watching over Micah, Butler was able to totally fulfill his other camp duties.

“The whole week the boys demonstrated a Christ-like example of loving others,” Butler says.

Butler and Kuehn were both caught by surprise by how God worked in the lives of the boys, the level of maturity they displayed, and how they took ownership of their relationship with Micah. It also led to changing the way many of the youth viewed Micah and those with disabilities.

Campers and counselors alike sought Butler out to express their thankfulness that he and Micah had come to camp, as God used them both to impact lives. Following camp, Butler received a text from one of the freshmen boys from the youth group: Hey Joe. I just want to thank you for coming along with us this week and hanging out. You and Micah have made me a better person. Your son has given me patience and also taught me how to love others in a whole new way. And you have been here for all of us young men and have given us such pure words of life. I love you brother, thank you!

When the youth group came back together the next Wednesday night, Kuehn felt prompted by the Lord to talk to them a little about Micah. “I told them, one day, Micah was going to have a restored and glorified body, just like us, in heaven. He’ll be no different than us, but I believe he’ll remember this time — that students loved him . . . just because he was him.”

Source: AG News