A Different Kind of Retirement

When Bill Moll considered retiring, he envisioned doing volunteer work at the church he attended, Abundant Life Assembly of God, in Cupertino, California. He also contemplated using his considerable work experience as a volunteer in a Christian organization.

He had been senior vice president of merchandising at Macy’s West, overseeing more than 250 locations in the Western U.S., as well as Hawaii and Guam. After that, Moll served as executive vice president for Stein Mart, a national clothing chain. He had worked hard, paid his dues, and looked forward to retiring early so he could do something more significant with his life.

When Moll turned 59 and retired in 2010, however, he didn’t anticipate that God would have other plans for him — plans to work in a slum.

Moll had been content volunteering at the church, when in 2013 Senior Pastor Greg Wendschlag asked him to co-lead an urban mission trip, working with San Francisco City Impact, located in one of the nation’s poorest urban districts, known as the Tenderloin. This one-square-mile, inner-city neighborhood is home to 44,000 people (including 7,000 homeless) and features San Francisco’s highest crime rate.

“That was the last thing in the world I wanted to do,” Moll says. Though his wife, Patty, had participated in street ministry, such a venture was way out of his comfort zone. But as he considered how much Patty had sacrificed to follow him in his career, Moll agreed to go.

“I wanted to do this for her,” he says. As the trip drew closer, however, he dreaded it. “I really didn’t want to go.”

When their group arrived at the ministry location, Moll hid out in the kitchen. That worked well the first day. But God prodded him to go into the neighborhood. So the next morning he went into a building, knocked on doors, handed out food, and prayed with people.

A knock on the second floor of an apartment building changed his life.

The man who answered was a former IBM software engineer who had become entangled with drugs and lost everything. As Moll talked with the man, he sensed God whispering, You are where you are because of Me.

Moll at that moment knew where he would spend his retirement: in this inner-city neighborhood, building relationships and ministering to society’s forgotten and misunderstood.

After that mission trip, he and Patty found themselves returning each week to the Tenderloin as part of City Impact’s Adopt a Building initiative. In September 2015, their work drew Christian Huang’s attention. Huang, the ministry’s executive director, got a copy of Moll’s résumé and requested a lunch meeting. At the meeting, Huang laid out the résumé and a map of the Tenderloin, which showed every building in the district.

“Could you use all the experience you gained in the corporate world to leverage it for the Kingdom?” Huang boldly asked Moll.

Then Huang posed a colossal follow-up question: “Can you commit to adopt every building in the Tenderloin before you die?” That’s 305 buildings.

Did God give you all this experience in the corporate world just so you can enjoy the latter part of your life skiing and biking?” Huang continued. “Or could it be because He was training you to use the best years of your life for the Kingdom?” Huang challenged Moll to pray about it.

Two days later, Moll responded with a resounding yes. He and Patty agreed to lead the Adopt a Building initiative and started two months later.

The Molls drive 45 minutes from their home in Woodside, California, one of the richest neighborhoods in the nation, to work in the Tenderloin, one of the poorest and roughest.

Twice a week the Molls gather and mobilize volunteers to go into their “adopted” buildings and build relationships. They greet the residents, help meet their needs, feed them, and pray for them.

“We give them a connection to people who care, and that can lead them to the Lord,” Moll says.

Moll loves his revised version of retirement.

“These people know us now,” he says. “We’re a Caucasian couple who don’t exactly ‘fit in.’ But we walk those streets and look people in the eyes — we can give them dignity.”

Although this isn’t how Moll initially pictured retirement, now he can’t envision being anywhere else.

“My life before was cutthroat, dog-eat-dog,” Moll recalls. “Now I don’t worry about power struggles and corporate politics. I just get to love people — right where they are.”

Source: AG News

Faithful Behind Bars

Optimistic and good-natured Floyd Bledsoe doesn’t sound like a man who spent nearly 16 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.

Yet Bledsoe, 39, credits Assemblies of God U.S. missionary Donald W. Starnes and participants in the Freedom Challenge program with encouraging him to stay strong in desperate environs.

Starnes has served as director of Freedom Challenge since 2005, when it became a full-scale drug and rehabilitation program behind prison walls in Hutchinson http://www.dc.state.ks.us/facilities/hcf, Kansas.

Although he didn’t have any criminogenic life-controlling issues himself, Bledsoe graduated as the first Freedom Challenge intern. In an effort to help others, he went through advanced leadership training and development and personal studies to obtain Teen Challenge certification.

One of the key components of Freedom Challenge is forgiveness, an attribute Bledsoe learned early in his incarceration.

“Forgiveness is most beneficial to the offended party,” Bledsoe says. “Forgiveness is setting the offended person free and restoring what’s been taken from him.”

Bledsoe stayed almost 16 years in Kansas institutions after being wrongfully convicted of the first-degree gunshot murder of 14-year-old Zetta Camille Arfmann, his sister-in-law. He had been sentenced to life in prison.

While incarcerated, his wife divorced him, his two young sons forgot him, and his parents grew estranged from him.

Bledsoe maintained his innocence — and his faith — over those trying years. In December 2015, based on recent suicide notes from the real killer — Bledsoe’s older brother, Tom — plus DNA tests, Floyd walked out of prison a free man. Thanks to the persistence of the Innocence Project, a Kansas court exonerated Floyd and dropped all charges, however the state offered no remuneration for the years he had been wrongly imprisoned.

“Freedom Challenge helped me grasp that God is in the devastation,” says Bledsoe, who in addition to repairing furnaces and air conditioners is a public speaker on forgiveness and judicial reform. Bledsoe is trying to convince Kansas legislature to implement a compensation law so that future prisoners who have been errantly imprisoned will be eligible for funds once liberated.

Freedom Challenge is similar to other Teen Challenge programs in that students are given daily time for group instruction, individual study, and prayer. However, to a greater degree than Teen Challenge centers on the outside, those most experienced in this program mentor the neophytes.

Bledsoe counseled, befriended, and held others accountable in the faith-based program. He found his time working with Freedom Challenge to be rewarding, yet strenuous.

“Sometimes you need to allow people dealing with extreme hurt or anger to vent so they can get to the root cause of the issue,” Bledsoe says.

RIGOROUS TRAINING

Although Freedom Challenge technically is open to any prisoner, the spiritual direction offered is based on the gospel. Inmates who voluntarily choose to be involved in the rigorous eight-month training understand what specific religious materials will be used to teach character and values.

Typically, participants are involved in Freedom Challenge five-plus hours every weekday, taking courses on subjects such as theology, family, and leadership. More than 200 men, some of them lifers, have completed the studies.

“Being able to make choices and set goals is a different experience for men in prison, where they are told when to wake up and what to eat every day,” says Starnes, 57. “If they go back into society, they will be better equipped at communicating and interacting.”

Starnes seeks enrollees interested in forming positive relationships.

“They have to be teachable,” Starnes says. “Humility is the attitude of learning.”

Prison officials didn’t require Freedom Challenge to compromise any of its teachings before approving the program.

Sam Cline, who is the warden at Hutchinson Correctional Facility where 1,860 inmates live, says Freedom Challenge students have a more positive demeanor and an increased willingness to converse than the typical prisoner. 

“They seem to have a certain amount of joy that’s reflected in their personality,” Cline says. “A lot of the men in prison are sullen and withdrawn, but these men seem to be able to cope better with the difficult realities of this place.”

Cline says Freedom Challenge staffers aren’t afraid to confront untoward behaviors.

“Don has a very obvious commitment to the men in the program and to making sure the program itself is one of extreme accountability,” Cline says.

Overall, Freedom Challenge has 85 volunteers engaged in some capacity, including 15 who regularly go inside the correctional center. For the past four years, a Freedom Challenge mentoring coordinator has worked at the Hutchinson facility as well as with parolees on the outside.

Starnes still makes a daily 90-mile round-trip drive from Wichita to oversee the program.

“Don treats everybody with the utmost respect, care, and compassion,” Bledsoe says. “The lengths he is willing to go to see people succeed amazes me.”

Starnes tries to connect those released from prison with Bible-believing churches. He also has business connections so that inmates can begin working a job even before being freed. Those who are accountable to their parole officer, employer, relatives, and churchgoers are most likely to conquer their past, he says.

“If they have a sense of purpose and motivation to pursue it, their chances of returning are minimal because there is something greater inspiring them than just surviving,” Starnes says. “They feel like they are making a difference for themselves, their families, and the kingdom of God. When that happens, they desire to avoid evil, and they won’t come back.”

Pictured: Don Starnes (left) remains good friends with Floyd Bledsoe.

Source: AG News

10 Days in a Lifeboat

Editor’s note: The following article is reprinted from Assemblies of God Heritage magazine in 1985. Paul L. Kitch, who served as an AG pastor and missionary to Africa, died in 2005 at the age of 94. His son Paul A. Kitch, who also served as an AG missionary to Africa with his wife, Delma, retired in 2001 and lives in Springfield, Missouri.

By Paul L. Kitch

My 8-year-old son Paul A. Kitch and I had just concluded our evening devotions in our cabin aboard the West Keybar, a British cargo ship bound from Africa to America. Without warning, a great explosion rocked the ship. The lights immediately went out.

This was 1942 and the U.S. was at war with Germany. It didn’t take an expert to know that we had been hit by a German torpedo and that we had no time to lose.

I quickly took a flashlight, found Paul, and grabbed our life preservers. We had drilled for such a disaster but hoped and prayed that we would never have the real thing.

Paul asked, “Daddy, are we having another lifeboat drill?”

I said, “Yes, Son, we’re having a real lifeboat drill; come, let’s find the lifeboats.”

We had left America in 1938 as appointed missionaries to Africa. After studying French in France for several months, we went to French West Africa to labor for the Lord among the Mossi tribes. We took up our assignment in Tenkodogo, Upper Ivory Coast.

In 1941, we laid to rest our 2-year-old girl, Lita Ann. Seven months later, my wife, Bernadine, died of typhus. I was so low with the same disease at the time that the news of my wife’s death was kept from me for a month. Paul was also sick with typhus.

As soon as I was strong enough, I packed our furniture, straightened our business affairs, and moved to Ouagadougou where I convalesced for several weeks.

MAN THE LIFEBOATS!

In October 1942, we left Africa aboard the West Keybar with some 80 people aboard — nine passengers and the crew. It would be the last trip for the West Keybar, for within three weeks it would be at the bottom of the South Atlantic.

After the torpedo hit the ship, Paul and I hurried to the deck where we met about 12 others searching for the lifeboats. We learned that the explosion had blown both lifeboats from that side into the water.

We were then ordered to the other side of the ship. There we saw a lifeboat with about 15 persons pulling away from the ship. Another boat, with nearly as many in it, was still there, so we hurriedly climbed down the “spider web” rope ladder to it.

Thirty-five of us crowded in this 28-foot boat. I wanted to go back to save a few valuables, but the officer ordered me to get in the boat immediately. Later he explained that if the ship went down while our little boat was within 75 yards, the suction would pull us under.

Paul lost his shoes climbing down the ladder, and all of our other possessions were lost except our passports, my billfold, and the clothes we were wearing.

Soon after we pulled away from the ship, we saw a red flash through the darkness. Our wireless operator signaled back with a flashlight. A shout came in answer, and by means of our signaling and his shouting, we were able to locate and rescue a man. He was alone in a half-sunken lifeboat. Although we were overcrowded already, we took him into our lifeboat, and from the sinking lifeboat we salvaged a keg of drinking water (about 30 gallons) and a little store of food to add to our own meager stock.

At about this time a second torpedo hit the ship right in the middle. There was a big gush of fire and the ship broke in two. The entire ship was under water within about 60 seconds.

Shortly after this, we sighted a life raft on which were about eight navy gunmen from our ship. We could not take them into our lifeboat because we were already too overcrowded, so we tied their raft to our lifeboat with a 30-foot rope.

Suddenly we heard a very peculiar noise, and a ghost-like figure came up out of the dark blue ocean. It was the German submarine!

A few minutes later we heard a voice say in broken English, “How are you all?” Then the voice called for our captain and our radio operator. We had to pull alongside the submarine, and in order to do that it was necessary to cut the life raft loose again. We were at the enemy’s mercy, so our captain and wireless operator went aboard the submarine. Our lifeboat drifted off while these two men were questioned. After about 20 minutes, we were called back to the submarine, and our captain and wireless operator got back in with us. Then the spectral figure disappeared.

All that night we tossed about in our little lifeboat. One moment we were up on the crest of a mighty wave, and the next we were plunging down into the trough. We had prided ourselves upon being pretty good sailors by this time, but we found that the tossing of the little lifeboat was quite different from the rolling of a big ship.

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LIFE AT SEA

For a day and a half we waited, looking for the life raft and for the other lifeboat that had pulled away from the ship. We failed to see anything of either, so the captain said, “After all, we are eight souls and a crew of 27” — adding with a laugh, “since we sailors are not souls.” So we prepared to depart. All the ship’s passengers were in our lifeboat except another missionary we had met on the trip.

We hoisted a sail, arranged the compass on the stern of the lifeboat, and steered for land. Our rudder had been broken when the waves dashed us against the submarine, so we rigged up a rudder by means of an oar and rope fastened to the stern. The captain knew our approximate location, and by means of maps and compass, he was able to chart a course, which he hoped would take us to land.

Rations were handed out twice a day. Each morning, we were given two ounces of water, two small crackers, and one third of a 3½-ounce can of pemmican per person (pemmican is a compound of concentrated food prepared for emergency use, consisting of raisins, coconuts, apples, dextrose, fat, oil, vanilla, and salt.) Each evening we received two ounces of water, two graham crackers, and a half-inch square of sweet chocolate. Once every three days we were given a small package of malted milk tablets about the size of Lifesavers.

We were so crowded that it was impossible for one to relax properly. Hour after hour we would sit until we were cramped and aching. Any sleeping we did was in a sitting position. However, I managed to make room for Paul to be quite comfortable most of the time. He was the only child in the lifeboat.

Paul had been reading the story of Robinson Crusoe, so I said, “Now Paul, we are going to play Robinson Crusoe and look for land, and the Lord will see us through.” I told him how the Lord Jesus calmed the storm on the sea for the disciples and how He would take care of us, too. He asked whether the submarine would come and shoot a torpedo at us again, but I told him the submarine wouldn’t waste a torpedo on a little lifeboat.

The officers were respectful and reverent. They were thankful to God for sparing their lives through this disaster. Others, however, were cursing God because He permitted them to be torpedoed.

We ran into strong rains, but these were a blessing. By dropping the sail and fixing it so as to catch the rainwater, we were able to add to our precious supply of drinking water. However, the rains brought a little hardship. We had to stand up and huddle together in the center of the boat. There were only about four blankets among 35 of us, and very few coats. We had to sit in sopping wet clothes, our bodies shivering and teeth chattering, until the sun would come out the next day. As we were in the tropics, it was warm in the day, even in November, but at night it grew chilly, and when it was wet we were quite cold. Sometimes the waves washed over the bow, and the crew had to pump the water out of the lifeboat. We thank the Lord for graciously preserving our little lifeboat through those 10 days of tossing about with such a large load of occupants.

On the eighth day a ship passed by. When we were on the crest of a wave we would catch sight of the top of it; then when we sank into the trough of the waves, it was out of sight. But ours was such a small boat and we were so far away that the ship did not sight us, and we drifted on.

LAND HO!

On the morning of the ninth day, we sighted land. We were all very happy, and to celebrate we had a double ration of water that day — four ounces instead of two, in the morning and in the evening.

On the morning of the 10th day, a plane spotted us and, as we later learned, reported us to the coast patrol. A rescue committee of ladies was notified to get warm things ready for us. An hour after we were spotted, a sub chaser came out and met us two miles from land. It was with joy that we crawled out of the lifeboat, up the spider-web ladders, and into the sub chaser. We sped toward land, which we learned was the island of Barbados.

After a good bath and a change into some clean clothes, we felt much better. The trousers bore a label on which was printed British and American flags and the words, “British War Relief Society — sincere good wishes from a friend in the U.S.A.” You can guess how we felt at seeing the grand old Stars and Stripes again! The gracious hand of God was upon us in all this experience.

We were very grateful to the many friends who told us, after we returned, that they had been praying for us. I am sure God heard and answered. Out of about 80 persons on board, only 35 of us survived.

Jesus has certainly been a wonderful Pilot to me. We had to trust the captain and other officers of the ship and lifeboat, but our faith went beyond them to the Lord Jesus Christ, and He did not fail us.

Pictured: The West Keybar before its final voyage
Source: AG News

"Chewbacca Laughter" Brings an Unexpected Platform

Candace Payne, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mom and member of the worship team at The Oaks Fellowship (AG) in Red Oaks, Texas, says she has been praying for ways to share Christ with others outside of her church. She had no idea the magnitude with which God would respond.

On Thursday, May 19, 2016, God began to answer that prayer when Payne felt the urge to share the purchase, she had just made at Kohl’s, with her Facebook friends. So she created a video and posted it to Facebook while in her car outside of the store. The purchase? A wearable mask of Chewbacca, a character from the Stars Wars movies. 

In the video, Payne is clearly beyond excited about her purchase. When she tries on the mask, which is battery operated to make the sound of a wookiee (the fictional type of being Chewbacca is), Payne gets tickled, and begins to laugh. Her laughter, which is more than a bit infectious, drew in her Facebook friends, who immediately began to respond, loving her post.

In fact, Payne’s friends liked it so much, they began to share the video with their friends — and they liked it too, so they shared it. And their friends liked it, and so did their friends, and their friends . . . and their friends!

By Friday morning, Payne says her video already had more than 20 million views. By Monday morning, the video had been viewed more than 136 million times!

“To put that into perspective,” says Mark Forrester, director of communications for the Assemblies of God, “the previous Facebook record for live video shares on Facebook was about 10 million views. This is in a whole other category.”

Following the posting of her video and its amazing viral ascent, Kohl’s saw a run on the mask, selling out their online supply soon afterwards. Several Kohl’s representatives then showed up at Payne’s home on Saturday, presenting her with Chewbacca masks for the whole family (her husband and two children, ages 6 and 7) as well as some other Star Wars-themed gifts, $2,500 in gift cards, and 10,000 Kohl’s points to spend.

Payne says she began getting calls about the popularity of her post from the media on Friday. So far, she’s been interviewed by the BBC in the United Kingdom and National Public Radio in Washington, had Skype interviews with the weekend editions of Good Morning America and Fox and Friends, had an interview with BuzzFeed, and on Monday morning, May 23, was live on Good Morning America in New York City — and the offers and appearances since then have been nothing short of a whirlwind.

But it’s not just media exposure. On Saturday evening, Payne was invited to share briefly with a large group of young people at an AG youth event in Waxahachie, Texas. She explained to the teens that she has learned it doesn’t matter how talented, how anointed, how gifted, how passionate or how willing they are if they are not spiritually fit to do the things God has called them to do. She went on to encourage them to be diligent, patient, and obedient in Christ.

During her live interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts on Monday, Hasbro presented Payne with another box of Star Wars toys and a $2,500 gift certificate. Payne also shared that many people had been contacting her to share their stories of how the video had impacted their lives positively. One woman told Payne that her daughter, who has autism, had not laughed for more than two months before seeing the video — and now laughs every time she sees it. For Payne, it’s about bringing joy to people’s lives.

God has now given Payne more opportunities than she could have ever imagined to respond and speak into people’s lives. Tens of millions of people around the world, who would have been impossible for her to connect with, may now never forget her. Countless numbers have begun reaching back out to her in gratitude . . . many who may be wondering where her joy, that seems to bubble from her so freely, is sourcing from.

“[God is] opening doors of influence and possibilities to be able to reach people upon people that have never even heard the name of Jesus!” Payne said.

Who could have ever imagined that God would use something as simple as a Chewbacca mask, a video, and a joy-filled heart to provide an overwhelming answer to prayer and open the door to innumerable opportunities to impact lives for Christ?

But there’s more to this viral video than most know. On Sunday, The Oaks pastor, Scott Wilson, gave Payne an opportunity to share the “back story.” On Wednesday night before making the video, she felt that the Holy Spirit had directed her to a specific restaurant for supper just prior to church. There, God had a “divine opportunity” waiting. Only one other person was there, and Payne struck up a conversation with her. The woman was a single mom who had just put one child through college with another child now preparing to enter college, but felt God also wanted her now to go to college — but it seemed impossible.

All Payne had was a $20 bill that was supposed to last her for several days, but she felt God tell her to give the money to the woman, explaining that it was “seed money” for what He was going to bless the woman with in order for her to attend college.

She said that as she left, she felt the warmth of the Holy Spirit flood her body head to toe, telling her, “I’m going to honor this obedience, like you’re not even ready for.”

Two days later, He kept His word.

 

Editor’s note: Candace Payne’s “Chewbacca” video has continued to attract views (currently at 146 million) and the demand for Payne’s time has been nothing short of phenomenal as she literally no longer has time to even respond to all the requests for interviews and appearances!

Source: AG News

This Week in AG History — May 27, 1916

The Mexican Revolution, a decade-long civil war beginning in 1910, changed the North American social landscape. Thousands of displaced people fled the armed conflict and social disruption in Mexico and sought refuge along the borderlands in the United States. It was among these refugees that Henry C. Ball, a young preacher in Ricardo, Texas, planted one of the first Hispanic Assemblies of God congregations.

H. C. Ball (1896-1989) accepted Christ at age 14 and joined the Methodist Church in Kingsville, Texas. Approximately 10 days after his conversion, Ball attended a service held by a missionary to Venezuela. At that service, he felt a tug in his heart to serve as a missionary to Mexican refugees in his area. Encouraged by his Methodist pastor, the very next Sunday Ball held his first evangelistic service.  

Ball went from house to house, inviting Mexicans to the Spanish-language service he had planned in a schoolhouse in Ricardo. Bell was undeterred by the fact that he did not even know Spanish. He memorized a one-sentence Spanish-language invitation, and he brought a Spanish hymn and Bible to the service. Two visitors joined Ball in that first service in late 1910. Ball was only 14 years old, he did not know Spanish, he had only accepted Christ weeks earlier, and yet he followed God’s call and pioneered a church among the Mexican refugees in Texas. The young preacher persevered and, in 1912, the Methodist church gave him a license to preach at age 16.

In 1914, Ball was Spirit-baptized under the ministry of Felix Hale, a Pentecostal evangelist affiliated with the newly formed Assemblies of God. This put Ball at odds with his Methodist superiors, who dismissed him from the denomination. Ball’s ordination was recognized by the Assemblies of God in January 1915, and his congregation of Mexicans became the seed from which much of the Hispanic work in the Assemblies of God grew.  

The Pentecostal Evangel published frequent reports from Ball. The May 27, 1916, issue featured a photograph of the Asamblea de Dios in Ricardo, Texas, on the cover, and included an article by Ball about the new Mexican believers. He encouraged readers pray for the immigrants. He wrote, “Here they are on our land, poor, homeless and without Jesus.”  

Ball described the situation faced by the Mexicans: “The war in Mexico has driven many Mexicans from their homes in their native land to our side of the river. In the Rio Grande valley are many thousands of these refugees, besides the resident population. They have now been here some time, not able to return and fearful that their own nation may turn against them.” Ball asked Pentecostal Evangel readers to provide financial support and prayers for his efforts to reach the Mexican refugees with the gospel.

A strong Assemblies of God ministry developed among the Mexican refugees, initially led by H. C. Ball and others. This work not only helped to strengthen the Assemblies of God in Mexico when refugees returned home as Pentecostal believers, it also transformed the Assemblies of God in the United States. In 2014, 22.5 percent of Assemblies of God adherents in the United States were Hispanic.

Read the article by H. C. Ball, “The Mission to the Mexicans,” on page 12 of the May 27, 1916, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Pentecostal Work in Fort Worth, Texas,” by B. F. Lawrence

• “Answered Prayer: Healing When Evangel is Applied,” by Elmer Snyder

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

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

Pictured: H. C. Ball (front center) with ministers at the Latin American District Council meeting in Los Angeles, California, November 1-3, 1948.

Source: AG News

Responding to Sri Lanka's Continued Flooding and Landslides

The worst rains in over 25 years deluged Sri Lanka for several days earlier this month, sending half a million people fleeing from their homes and triggering landslides that have buried victims in up to 50 feet of mud.

It is estimated that 300,000 people are still displaced, 200 are dead, and 100 families missing since the mudslides are still unaccounted for. According to the Red Cross, 200 families were initially buried by debris, but rescue teams have managed to rescue at least 180 people.

“These rains started after months of extreme heat,” AGWM missionary to Sri Lanka Kyle Alford reports. “At first they brought relief from high temperatures and soothed the parched ground. But as they continued to fall, people’s relief quickly turned to fear.”

Floods have affected 21 of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts. Some 200,000 people are said to be staying with friends and family while another 300,000 are staying in shelters. Many churches and believers are affected by this crisis.

On Monday a two-person assessment team from Convoy of Hope went to Sri Lanka to begin addressing the dire situation, which includes a terrible lack of potable water.

“It is our goal to provide clean drinking water for as long as it is needed,” Alford says. “This will be accomplished through 20 water filtration systems. Until those systems are ready, we are providing bottled water for up to 20,000 people. Our further goal is to provide medical care for those acquiring infections, parasites, and funguses through contaminated water.”

Dishan Wickramaratne, general superintendent of the Sri Lanka Assemblies of God, adds, “We are supplying dry ration packs that will sustain one family of 4-5 for about one week. We’re targeting 5,000 families and also providing bed sheets, sanitary supplies, clothing, and cookies and milk for children. Please pray for our nation. Pray also that the rains will soon stop, as the main river in our city is only a couple feet from overflowing, which will cause immense problems.”

“Our worldwide Fellowship joins in prayer with our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters who are, in the midst of their own suffering, reaching out to others who are suffering,” affirms U.S. AG General Superintendent George O. Wood.

AGWM Eurasia Regional Director Omar Beiler asks for prayer that “many may come to Christ as a result of the diligent, compassionate efforts of Sri Lankan AG leaders and AGWM missionaries.”

AGWM and Convoy of Hope are partnering in an initial response. Anyone wanting to contribute to that partnership can visit agwm.com and click on “Sri Lanka Flooding” in the pull-down menu under the “Give” button.

Image used in accordance with CC BY 2.0 license. Photo credit: trokilinochchi, Flickr

Source: AG News

Happy Trails

The cowbell rings on a Sunday night. It’s a sure sign that church is about to begin.

That’s the scenario at Northwoods Harvest Barn in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, better known as Cowboy Church Perham. The welcoming and nonthreatening atmosphere allows folks of all ages — from the wizened farmer to the littlest buckaroo — to check out Jesus in a fun and unusual way.

After the cowbell starts the service, a mandolin, a washtub basin, and spoons — along with the traditional church organ — help cowboy congregants to worship. The pastor starts his message with a good-natured joke and an entertaining story before diving into God’s Word. The service concludes with the singing of “Happy Trails.”

The uncommon gathering draws more than 75 people each Sunday evening to the “church outside the box but inside the Bible,” as Pastor Brian Erickson likes to remind people.

Erickson planted the church in 2007 with 14 people at the first service. He had been assistant pastor at Northwoods Assembly in nearby Perham. He had a vision for doing something out of the ordinary to draw people to church who might not otherwise darken its doors.

So as not to compete with Northwoods Assembly or other area congregations, he decided to offer Sunday evening country gospel concerts. He searched the area for a place to meet and soon discovered a defunct church for sale. Although in terrible disrepair, Erickson felt God leading him to the place. When he checked into the details, to his delight he found that the AG Minnesota District Council owned the building.

The Minnesota District handed over the keys, and Erickson, along with his wife, Sandy, and a few others, got to work transforming the church into a cowboy and farm-themed “barn,” complete with a tractor and a hitching post out front.

People began to visit and then return.

“Most folks around here aren’t cowboys or farmers, but they’re drawn to our place because it’s filled with joy,” Erickson says. “The Bible says to be fishers of men, but there are different lures. We offer a folksy, relaxed environment to learn about God and grow in our faith.”

Sandy Marlett agrees. Four years ago, she and her husband, Seth, felt something missing from their lives. They had been intrigued driving past the church. So they gave it a try. Hooked immediately, they became regular attendees, bringing their four grandchildren (ages eight to 11) as well, so the youngsters could attend the Kids Korral Sunday School.

“It changed our lives,” says Marlett. “The Holy Spirit is really alive and moving in that place.” One weekend when the Marletts couldn’t make the 30-mile drive from their house to the church, their grandchildren expressed deep disappointment.

“They love going to church,” Marlett says. “I’m so grateful that it has planted those seeds in their lives.”

That kind of response thrills Erickson.

“People feel loved and accepted here,” Erickson says.

Source: AG News

Co-Creator of Junior Bible Quiz, George Edgerly, Dies

Rev. George A. Edgerly, 76, one of the original developers of the Assemblies of God Junior Bible Quiz (JBQ) program and the Bible Fact-Pak, passed away Saturday, May 21, 2016, in Springfield, Missouri, following a massive stroke.

In addition to pastoring six Assemblies of God congregations in Iowa, his home state, Edgerly was well-known for his work in Bible Quiz. Edgerly was a Bible Quiz coach in Gray, Iowa, in the mid- to late-1960s and later coached Park Crest Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, to the 1992 national Bible Quiz title.

Edgerly also worked at the Assemblies of God national office beginning in 1973, serving in various areas of the Sunday School Department, ultimately directing all of the ministries of that department. He also served for a time as a field representative for Marketing and Distribution.

However, most will remember Edgerly for his work in co-creating the Junior Bible Quiz program and in co-developing the Bible Fact-Pak. The Fact-Pak offers 576 graded questions that were designed to be memorized and included Scripture passages, Bible facts, and Bible doctrines, which Edgerly called a solid foundation of facts and truths upon which a lifetime of learning could be built.

What seemed a trivial thing at the time, has gone around the world,” Edgerly said in an interview conducted several years ago. “The Fact-Pak has been translated into French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Swahili, Braille, Portuguese, and others [including German and Lithuanian].” JBQ and the Bible Fact-Pak have also been adopted by other denominations. Among these are Foursquare, Christian Missionary Alliance, and the General Association of General Baptists.

The success of the materials followed Edgerly’s passion for placing the Word of God into the minds and hearts of children. He stated, “I count JBQ to be the greatest contribution to our Fellowship with which I have been involved.”

“George’s contributions to kingdom of God and the Assemblies of God are innumerable,” states Dr. George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God. “Wherever he served, lives were impacted for Christ — he is a hero of the faith and will be deeply missed.”

Edgerly is survived by his wife of 57 years, Atha; three of their children, Dawn Rae Rethman, Max Allan Edgerly, and Jorin Lee Edgerly; five grandchildren; and his brother Veryl (Sally) Edgerly. He is preceded in death by his parents, Ralph and Edith, and an infant child, Ruth Mariee.

Visitation will be held at Walnut Lawn Funeral Home in Springfield, from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, May 25. Funeral services will be at Life 360-Park Crest Campus in Springfield at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 26, and at First Pentecostal in Ottumwa, Iowa, at 10 a.m. Friday, May 27. Burial will follow the Iowa service at Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

Contributions can be made in Edgerly’s name to the Once Lost Now Found ministry at First Pentecostal in Ottumwa.

Source: AG News

Neuroscience Collaboration

After Aimee Franklin graduated in 2007 with a degree in biology from Southeastern University (SEU) in Lakeland, Florida, she moved back home to Alabama and took a job working for her father, who had to leave an Assemblies of God pastorate after a severe heart attack.

Franklin put her dream of becoming a physician on hold as she paid down school debt and socked away money for medical school by delivering newspapers with her father, starting at 2 a.m. Through hard times, Franklin says the soundtrack for her life became “It’s Gonna Be Worth It,” the tagline from an inspiring song by Rita Springer. Motivated by Galatians 6:9, the Texas worship leader wrote “Worth It All” as a testimony never to give up on God’s plan.

Just before leaving campus, Franklin agreed to take the entrance exams for graduate study in biomedical research at the urging of Debbie Hazelbaker, her SEU faculty mentor. With little to lose, Franklin applied to the prestigious University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) Graduate School, as well as for a highly competitive fellowship with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, ranked as the world’s fourth wealthiest foundation.

“Miraculously, I got accepted and I quit my paper route,” she says. But a defining moment lurked just around the corner. Could she be open about her Christian faith as a research scientist at a large secular university?

“I was interviewing with all of these researchers,” Franklin recalls. “One of them asked why I was going to graduate school. I said, ‘I felt called to do this.’”

The researcher asked who called her.

“I said, ‘I really feel like God has called me to do this,’” Franklin responded.

The interviewer wanted to know if she heard an audible voice.

“No, but doors keep opening and it’s something I’m very interested in,” she explained. The interview concluded successfully, and Franklin enrolled in the doctoral program in integrative biomedical sciences. She looks back on that moment as another open-door affirmation that she could follow Christ and excel in research science.

Across the next nine years, more doors opened. In 2009, Franklin began research with Lori McMahon, the renowned neuroscientist who in 2015 became dean of the 5,000-student UAB Graduate School. Under McMahon’s mentorship, Franklin discovered what has become her life’s professional passion: The human brain.

“Most of the other organs, we have them figured out,” she says. “We know so little about the brain. Everything you discover is something new. Everything is exciting.”

UNLIKELY COLLABORATION

In 2014, Franklin completed her doctoral degree and then in a leap of faith accepted a full-time faculty job back at SEU as assistant professor of biology after turning down a highly sought-after post-doctoral job in Washington.

Recently, she and McMahon announced a verbal agreement to create the first-ever undergraduate research lab at SEU, a university with one of the fastest-growing enrollments  nationwide. Nevertheless, it is extremely rare for a major secular research university to collaborate so significantly with a faith-based school, especially one tiny by comparison.

“At Southeastern, we want a faculty that develops solutions to real world issues and problems,” says SEU President Kent Ingle. “We have created an amazing research lab.”

Under the agreement, UAB will send mouse brain tissue to the SEU lab for research so that SEU will not have to keep live animals on site. Franklin expects that the lab will begin receiving tissue before 2017. The mouse brain has become a frequently used model for neuroscience research because there is similarity with human tissue in key aspects.

For Franklin, doing scientific research with undergraduates in a Christian university setting brings together more than she could have imagined as a first-year pre-med major at SEU in 2003. She now sees neuroscience as her mission field.

By doing research, she contributes new discoveries. By teaching undergraduates how to do quality research, she affirms that Christians who excel in math and science can do more than serve as clinicians or doctors on the mission field.

“In research, money is tight,” Franklin says. “You get a result in research and there are 15 next steps to take, but you only have money to do two of them. How do you pick? You’re going to make an educated guess. But it would be awesome to have Spirit-led people making these decisions.”

Franklin also has a commitment to local church leaders to help them understand the value of research science.

“In church, we always pray that God would guide the surgeon’s hands,” she says. “We don’t really pray for our researchers out there discovering the cures and treatments. Let’s start praying for our researchers that they be Spirit-led.”

McMahon says she is motivated to work with SEU because, “We don’t have the manpower to do everything we want to do.” She sees the arrangement as a win-win for students and researchers and is enthusiastic about working with her former student.

“Aimee is extremely talented, super-smart, and highly motivated,” McMahon says. “If given the resources to grow, she will do big things.” McMahon, a lifelong Catholic, endorses Franklin’s desire to bring faith and science into harmony.

“For those of us who are Christian and faithful, we can still do our science,” McMahon says. “Scientists do not have all the answers.”

GROWING FIELD

The larger context is that federal funding for brain science research is growing rapidly. For 2015, the National Institutes of Health awarded at least $5.5 billion in research grants. Hundreds of millions more in research is spent on brain disorders and diseases.

In 2014, NIH announced a new 10-year, “moonshot” plan to spend an additional $4.5 billion to create new tools for brain study. “It’s a new era of exploration, an exploration of inner space instead of outer space,” Cornelia Bargmann, a Rockefeller University neurobiologist said at the time of the NIH announcement.

UAB and SEU, through the two women scientists, will support research in three areas:

  • Fragile X syndrome, a rare inherited intellectual disability primarily in males, in which an area of the X chromosome is vulnerable to damage. This condition accounts for up to 6 percent of autism cases. Researchers are pursuing therapies to treat autism and intellectual disability using Fragile X as the model.
  • Major depressive disorder (clinical depression). About 3 million people per year are diagnosed with clinical depression. Some research will examine why post-menopausal women are more at risk than men for this disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease. One area of study at UAB is how plaques that build up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients may interfere with normal blood flow to brain neurons, a possible factor in memory loss.

SEU President Ingle says he expects Southeastern over time to grow its capacity to do top-level research.

“The bottom line is that education is about life stewardship and life-calling,” Ingle says.  “Southeastern can provide stewardship of calling whatever that calling is. We believe in divine healing. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to pray for someone to be healed and pray for a cure?”

In the words of Rita Springer, that kind of prayer is gonna be worth it all.

Source: AG News

Igloos in Hawaii

They live on beaches, in parks, at bus stops, beneath highway underpasses, and even in airports throughout the tropical paradise of Hawaii. At night, they sleep on sidewalks.

The Hawaiian Islands have one of the highest homeless rates in the U.S., and each year the numbers grow. Last fall, Gov. David Ige issued a state of emergency concerning homelessness.

Pastor Klayton Ko prayed. How should his church, the multisite First Assembly of God in Honolulu, respond to the homeless — especially vulnerable women and children?

Ko says the Holy Spirit provided a single-word response: shelter.

The pastor’s internet search of the word led him to the Juneau, Alaska-based InterShelter, which manufactures temporary, portable affordable housing. Each domed igloo — the company offers them in colors such as tangerine and pink — can be assembled in just three hours by three people with socket wrenches and screwdrivers.

Thus, Ko launched The Shelter, First Assembly’s initiative to provide Christian community, job training, and transitional housing to homeless people.

“Homelessness is a heart issue,” says Ko, who also is superintendent of the AG Hawaii District. “We as believers have been anointed to heal the brokenhearted, and to set free those caught in grips of poverty.”

While government programs can finance physical needs, Ko says, “The church has the spiritual resources to bring healing and hope to the homeless.”

Ko’s vision begins with an agricultural tract the church owns on Oahu, on which the church could place around a dozen long-lasting rustproof fiberglass panel “igloos,” cool inside even in the tropical heat.

From there, the church would lodge the homeless in a “God-based family community where they’re not isolated on the street,” says Daniel Kaneshiro, First Assembly’s facilities pastor and director of the homeless program.

The Shelter aims to train the homeless for employment, Kaneshiro says, adding that plans include building a self-sustaining organic farm, freeing the project from dependence on donations.

Kaneshiro notes that many homeless are employed, but the high cost of living in the Aloha State keeps them without a roof over their head. Monthly rent in metro Honolulu ranges from $1,300 to $1,600 for a one-bedroom apartment. Some chronic homeless come from the mainland, attracted by the temperate winter. Others move from Micronesia and the Marshall Islands with few job skills. The government has put up some homeless in converted shipping containers, which are hot and prone to rust in the salty Hawaiian air.  

First Assembly always has maintained a homeless outreach, Kaneshiro says. The church’s program includes feeding and busing the homeless to services. Historically, however, there has been no ecumenical movement on social issues in Hawaii.

Last year, First Assembly ordered a single four-person 314-square-foot igloo (12 feet tall, 20 feet in diameter) for $9,500 and at Christmas set it up in the church courtyard. Meanwhile, Ko, Kaneshiro and the rest of the leadership team sought the Lord’s guidance on fitting the structure into a holistic Christ-centered homeless ministry.

The church’s model igloo generated interest and enthusiasm not only at First Assembly, but also from pastors and congregants within other AG churches and beyond. In April, First Assembly went public with The Shelter initiative when Ko shared it with AG pastors during Hawaii’s District Council meeting. Since then, three AG churches and two independent congregations have pledged more than $91,000, in addition to the $100,000 that First Assembly has committed.

As Ko continues to speak to pastors, he expects more churches to adopt an igloo “and possibly launch a Shelter village on their island,” he says. “I am excited because while most pastors and churches have a desire to help the homeless, they have lacked the vehicle.”

NOT SO FAST

Obstacles hinder implementing the vision. Public shelters will accept those still using alcohol and drugs; in contrast, First Assembly isn’t equipped to provide social services for chronic homeless with substance abuse and mental health issues. The church campus itself couldn’t accommodate homeless residents because it’s near a school, which presents liability issues.

Another complication stems from how much control the church is willing to release when working with city and state officials.

“How do we partner with government but, at the same time, not compromise our beliefs?” Kaneshiro asks. “There’s a concern we cannot really create a program that requires someone to go to church or Bible study.”

Yet another holdup is getting required zoning and city permits for the church’s restricted agricultural land. Ko says church leaders have met with top city officials who pledged to find ways to either waive certain rules under the governor’s emergency proclamation or to speed up the normal process, which may take more than two years. With city favor, Ko says, the time may shorten to six months to a year.

Ko has been pleasantly surprised by the interest generated.

“Individuals, pastors, churches, and the mayor and city council [have said they want to] support in whatever ways possible,” he says.

The issue provides opportunity for churches to unite across denominational lines, working together to tackle this humanitarian crisis through the gospel. First Assembly joined the Hawaii’s first faith-based summit on homelessness in March. That opened deeper conversations in subsequent weeks with other church and parachurch leaders.

“It’s the body of Christ coming together with compassion for the least of these,” Kaneshiro says.

“I believe this will give the faith community greater leverage in the future to speak to other issues plaguing our state,” Ko says.

Pictured: Pastor Klayton Ko and one of the igloo shelters

Source: AG News