This update is from John Biswas, GCI missionary who leads the Bengali Evangelistic Association.
Because of the culture and poverty, mission trips to Bangladesh are never routine. No matter how much one may plan, the unexpected happens. However, this time, by God’s grace, things went quite well. For that I am thankful.
On the way to Bangladesh, I stopped in Singapore to renew contact with some Christians who support our work in Bangladesh. In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, I met with some of our gospel workers and with Christian leaders from other fellowships who have been helpful to us over the past few years. I had also arranged to meet a representative of the Bible League International who wanted to visit our mission center and to see our projects. He accompanied me on my journey to some of our village churches. He was impressed by the fact that so many villagers would like to have Bibles, which we are able give them as funds allow.
I thank God and am grateful to the many churches that make mission trips like this one possible.
On this trip I tried to visit as many of our churches as possible. The photographs show some of our activities. The photo at right shows us unloading Bibles after crossing one of the many rivers on our way to the village of Bagdha where we have one of our largest churches. I take Bibles to as many churches as I can, for there is always a need. Because there are no roads in many of these places, we transport the Bibles using rickshaws and boats.
The photo at left shows some of the young men who help us in many ways. They are part of our extended fellowship.
The photo below is of our church service in Anondopur. I am standing, and onstage with me are village elders. We try to make these gatherings festive, so here we rented a colorful tent. Doing so attracts many new people to our fellowship. They feel included.
In the photo at left, Monju, one of our key gospel workers, hands a Bible to a new person who requested one.
Because many walk several miles to get to our meetings, we usually provide a small fellowship meal following the service, as shown in the photo below. The meal gives our members opportunity to serve the visitors.
This update is from Eugene Guzon, GCI national director for the Philippines and mission developer for northeast Asia and the United Arab Emirates.
GCI-USA ministry developer Ted Johnston and I were in Cebu City, Philippines from November 27 through December 3 for the theology conference there. We knew that our members attending from Visayas and Mindanao would be returning home to prepare for Typhoon Pablo headed straight toward those areas. It turned out to be one of the strongest typhoons in 20 years!
Before Pablo’s landfall, people in Mindanao took the typhoon warnings seriously, but not enough to shield them from its massive force. Reporters said that Pablo was stronger than super storm Sandy, which hit the US recently. As of December 17, the official death toll from Pablo was 1020 with over 900 people still missing. Six Philippine provinces still have no stable water supply, and food and water are slow in coming to other areas. The government is doing its best to respond to this heartbreaking disaster.
Shortly after Pablo passed through, we asked our area superintendents and pastors in Mindanao for updates about the situation of the members. They informed us that there was some damage to homes and crops, but the members are safe. Some of them were close to the eye of the storm; however they were spared. For that we thank God! He is our protector, shield and source of comfort. However, we cannot help but feel for the many thousands of Filipinos who lost loved ones and property. They continue to recover from the trauma of this tragedy.
We pray for God’s comfort for them all, that in the midst of their loss and grief they may understand that they were never alone. God was and is with them in their deep pain and sorrow. We also pray for God’s provision, through all means possible, so that the people who were so devastated can rebuild their lives. We also pray for strength and means so that in whatever way, word or deed, the church and our friends can participate with God as he reaches out in love to the ones who are suffering.
In a ceremony held this month at the GCI home office in Glendora, California, Charles Albrecht was honored for 25 years of service to GCI as a full-time employee. A service plaque and watch were awarded to Charles by GCI president Joseph Tkach and CAD director Dan Rogers.
In 1982, Charles entered Ambassador College in Pasadena, California, transferred for a year to Big Sandy and then returned to Pasadena. As a student he worked in various part-time jobs including landscaping, maintenance, the SEP Orr staff, in food service and the Auditorium staff. He also spent time in Jordan working with the College’s project staff teaching vocational skills and mentally disabled children.
In 1987, Charles was hired full time by GCI to work as a telecommunications dispatcher, while continuing to work on the Auditorium on-call staff. In 1990, he was transferred to the Pastor General’s Office to serve as executive office aide.
In 1993, Charles received a master’s degree with honors in business administration, with emphasis in international business, from Cal State L.A. In 1994, he became the international administrative coordinator for GCI Church Administration International. In 1995, he was promoted to international operations manager. In 1996, he received a certificate in non-profit development and fundraising from UCLA.
In 1996, Charles’ responsibilities were widened to include serving as the US Church Administration and Development (CAD) office manager. That year he was ordained an elder and his title was changed to Manager, Operations and Budget. In 2000, he was given the additional duties of conference coordinator for CAD conferences in the US.
Charles continues to serve full time in these many responsibilities for GCI in the US and internationally. Congratulations Charles, and thanks to you, your wife Susi and to your children for your continuing service to GCI!
This update is from retired pastor Jim Stokes concerning his wife Grace. For an earlier update, click here.
Grace’s breathing is improved now that she is receiving oxygen overnight. However, her blood pressure fluctuations continue and she has swelling in her feet and ankles. Another problem is her inability to swallow solids. If tests show that she is unable to swallow, she will have a stomach tube inserted. She is currently almost starving.
Our two darling daughters arrived recently and will be staying for a few days. It is an absolute delight to have them here. It’s almost like it was before they grew up. They are truly darlings and they are a good tonic for both me and Grace.
Please continue to pray for Grace and for the whole family.
For Sonia Vengoechea, serving as a pastor for Grace Communion International is a dream come true. “When I was 9 years old I had a dream in which I saw what I have become by the grace of God.” Sonia grew up in Concordia, Colombia and then her family moved to Barranquilla. They often traveled between the two cities.
Sonia has always had a passion for teaching. “I always dreamed about becoming a teacher and starting my own school. When I was a little girl I used to pretend that I was a school teacher. After high school I studied pedagogy and worked as a teacher. Later I started my own school. Later I earned a master’s degree in educational supervision and human rights. When I got involved in WCG and started to get to know God, I started teaching about him.”
Sonia said her husband, Luis Vengoechea, is enjoying his retirement, “so he dedicates his time to support me in the congregation and always travels with me. My son Jorge Luis is also very supportive; he is married to Meidy who was part of the church worship band till she became a mother. My grandson, Jorge Andrés, is 4 years old and he already likes to play the drums; and my mother is a deaconess in the congregation.”
Sonia came in contact with WCG/GCI in 1988. “My sister Carmen was already in contact with the denomination and had given me copies of The Plain Truth. At the time I was recovering from surgery, so I had the time to read the magazine and booklets of the church. I was baptized in 1989.”
Soon after Sonia started attending, the church started meeting in her school. Sonia started serving and was soon ordained a deaconess. When asked about her journey to becoming a pastor, Sonia said, “I had constant communication with pastor Hector Barrero who invited some US pastors and friends to visit our congregation. Raymond Olson and his wife Denise gave us an offering to build the roof over the patio of the school so we could have our church meetings protected from the sun and the rain. Also Larry Hinkle, Charles Fleming and his wife Carmen visited us. In 2007, I was invited to attend the GCI international conference in the US, and at the end of that year in November I was ordained an elder and became pastor.”
Sonia enjoys being a pastor. Her passions include writing, teaching, comforting and guiding those in need. Pastoring enables her to fulfill that passion. “I enjoy caring and receiving the love of the brethren, the mutual service, the unity and their company.” She also loves that her congregation is connected to GCI. “I like that ours is an alive denomination that grows and changes whenever God shows the need to change. I also enjoy the church activities with the members.”
Sonia loves being included and she relates to those she serves. When asked what others should know about her, she replied: “I would like them to know that I have my own inner struggles; that I want to be humble, tender and loving with everybody; that God has performed a great miracle with my life because I used to be proud and arrogant.”
Sonia said her most memorable moments as pastor “are those when God speaks to me to touch my life and the life of the congregation, to guide us. The day of my ordination as an elder and appointment as a pastor was a highlight in my life. I felt honored by the people who were with me.”
Sonia shares a final thought: “I always feel that God is close to me—both with me and in me—guiding my life. I feel him very near when I give to the needy and when I prepare to teach.”
This update excerpts reports from GCI Philippines media and communications coordinator Len Joson.
GCI Philippines recently hosted four conferences to help pastors and other leaders understand better the Trinitarian theology now embraced by GCI. The main conference presenters were GCI-USA ministry developers Dr. Dan Rogers and Ted Johnston. Here are brief reports from each location.
About 150 pastors, pastoral team leaders, youth leaders and members from area GCI churches in Visayas and Mindanao gathered in Cebu City on November 30-December 2. The main conference presenter was GCI-USA ministry developer, Ted Johnston, who led discussions concerning the basic concepts of Trinitarian, Christ-centered theology. Philippine National Director Eugene Guzon and Pastor Rex Dela Pena hosted Ted and assisted in presentations.
Ted used various illustrations in his presentations, including one explaining the “upper story” (objective) and “lower story” (subjective) aspects of our humanity in Jesus who is our representative and substitute. He also explained how salvation, which is fundamentally relational, has many aspects–like the facets of a beautiful diamond. These facets need to be viewed together. Such illustrations helped clarify some of the more challenging aspects of Trinitarian theology.
Many who attended expressed gratitude that Ted had answered their questions. Pastor Joven Jaralve of Zamboanga wrote: “Thank you so much for the Cebu conference…. I was so blessed and liberated from bondage of doubts and uncertainties.” The Visayas and Mindanao leaders went home inspired, much encouraged and equipped with a better understanding of our Trinitarian, Christ-centered theology.
On the evenings of December 4 and 5, Pastor Ted met at GCI’s Crossway church in Metro Manila with about 30 GCI pastors, other key leaders and visitors. The audience was enthusiastic, with many questions asked. Pastor Ted obliged and did not mind going overtime. His presentations were inspiring to many. Romy Abrena wrote: “I’m so glad to meet Ted personally and happy to hear his overview of our theology…. I just wanted to immerse myself listening.”
On December 7-9, GCI-USA CAD director Dr. Dan Rogers met with about 120 pastors, pastoral team leaders and youth leaders from GCI churches in Metro Manila and Central and Northern Luzon. The conference was held at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary (APTS) in Baguio City. Dan and his wife Barbara visited there several years ago for a GCI Philippines festival.
Dan explained the historical background and theological journey of WCG/GCI, going back to its roots before Herbert Armstrong founded the Radio Church of God. He then explained the basic concepts of GCI’s Trinitarian theology. The conference ended with communion. Conference organizers were Pastors Audie Santibanez and Rex Dela Pena along with Philippine National Director Eugene Guzon and his national office staff.
Here are comments from four of the Baguio City participants:
I had been reading and studying articles on Trinitarian theology but somehow questions and concepts remained unanswered and blurred. This conference with Dr. Dan Rogers offered a general framework by which I can now understand. He outlined a general consensus on how theological concepts are formed through history and gave a clear perspective on how to understand biblical verses based on the main objectives of Jesus’ plan for mankind. There is much to study, but the main direction is clear. I’ve learned much and I’d like to thank the denomination for such action to help us all. I indeed hope this will lead to church growth as well as individual growth.
This conference is so valuable to me personally and to the local church because it will help us leaders cascade more clearly the understanding about GCI Trinitarian, incarnational theology. Many thanks to Dr. Dan Rogers and to GCI Philippines leadership for sponsoring the conference.
At first I was really hurt by what Pastor Dan Rogers said about Mr. [Herbert] Armstrong…. But God later on made me realize through what he was saying that the pain of experiencing these “changes” had been experienced by him earlier…. I thank God for making me realize (or reminding me?) that his love is the most important thing. I also thank Pastor Rogers for everything, especially using the “scaffolding” analogy. It was really helpful to me. One last thing I want to thank him for is sharing his story about the smelly person that sat beside him on the train. Before we were an exclusivist group, but now we realize that everyone is a child of God. It’s up to us to let them know about it! God really is good all the time!
I am thankful to be part of this conference for many reasons. I realize God has always been faithful in loving and guiding our fellowship to the truth in Jesus that we can trust him about everything including our future. Many thanks to the GCI leadership (US and the Philippines) for this conference.
Pastor Ted Johnston was also the lead presenter at the conference held on December 7-9 at Central Bicol State University in Pili, Camarines Sur (near Naga City) in the Bicol Region. About 100 GCI Philippines senior pastors, wives and pastoral team leaders from the Southern Luzon area participated. In addition, several GCI church leaders and members came from Metro Manila and San Carlos City, Pangasinan. Pastor Ted gave essentially the same presentation in Pili that he had given earlier in Cebu City.
One of the highlights of the Pili conference was the ordination to elder of Jonathan Oscar Jimenez, son of Oscar Jimenez who is senior pastor of the GCI church in Donsol, Sorsogon.
Many conference participants noted that Pastor Ted made clear the theology that GCI now teaches. They appreciated his illustrations, particularly those concerning the “upper” and “lower” story aspects of reality in Christ and the importance of understanding that the “imperatives” (commands) of Scripture always follow (in priority) the “indicatives” (issues of our identity in Christ). Participants went home with enthusiastic resolve to share the insights they had gained.
Following the conference, host pastors Drs. Rey Taniajura and Jose Manzano, area superintendent and assistant area superintendent respectively, took Pastor Ted to visit GCI’s church in Iriga City. Members in this church, which began as an outreach, are part of the indigenous Oyango tribe. Local pastor Domingo Trilles and Reuel Pamor, who pastors the conference’s host church, also accompanied Pastor Ted on the visit.
Though we are in the Christmas season when we celebrate the joy of Jesus’ birth, we are in shock following two horrific events. In the Philippines, Typhoon Pablo killed over 1000 people with 900 more still missing and 80,000 left homeless. In Newtown, Connecticut, 20 children and six teachers and administrators were brutally murdered by a 20-year-old gunman who also murdered his own mother. We grieve these terrible losses and struggle to make sense of them.
For my thoughts about the Newtown shootings, click on the picture at left to watch the new Speaking of Life program. In this program, I point out that, while there are no easy answers, it helps to have an eternal perspective.
That perspective is offered by the Christmas story itself. It’s the story of the Son of God coming to be with us in the midst of our sin and sorrow, in order to bring us his salvation—the ultimate healing. As we thank God for sending his Son, born in a manger about 2,000 years ago, let us pray for those who are suffering and grieving in the wake of these tragedies and let us also pray for our Lord’s return in glory when all tears of sorrow will be wiped away and all this world’s wrongs will be made right.
The word Christmas
Our appreciation of the Christian meaning of Christmas is enhanced by understanding the origin of the word Christmas. It is the contraction of the words Christ’s mass, which is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and the Old English Cristes mæsse. The suffix –mas is from maesse, which means “festival,” “feast day” or “mass.” Maesse is derived from the common Latin word messa, which means “dismissal” and is taken from the formal Latin word missa, the feminine past participle of mittere, meaning “to let go” or “to send.”
Over time, missa came to signify the Eucharistic service—a practice that continues in Catholic churches, probably because the concluding words of the service are “ite, missa est” meaning, “go, the mass is over,” or “the prayer has been sent.” You will find this sort of information in an etymological dictionary, like the one online at www.etymonline.com/.
Celebrating and proclaiming the Messiah’s coming
As the etymology of the word Christmas indicates, the Christian celebration of this day has its roots in the idea that Jesus has been sent to us. The church gathers on Christmas to worship and take communion in recognition of his coming through his birth to Mary in Bethlehem. From this gathering, the church is sent out (dismissed) to proclaim this good news in all the world.
When Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist regained his voice, he proclaimed a rich prophecy concerning the coming Messiah (from the Hebrew word Māšîaḥ, meaning “anointed one,” which in Greek is Christós and in English is Christ). In Luke 1:78, Zechariah refers to the long-promised Messiah as “the dayspring” (KJV) or “the rising sun” (NIV), sent “to us from heaven.” The Greek word translated “dayspring” or “rising sun” is anatole—a word used by Greek speakers in two ways. First it is used to refer to the light of the sun and the stars rising—also meaning, “from the east,” since the sun rises in the east and sunrise is another way of saying daybreak or dawn. Second, anatole is used to refer to a “shoot” or “branch.” It was used this way in the Septuagint (the Old Testament in Greek) to convey the meaning “branch” found in Jeremiah 23:5 and Zechariah 3:8 and 6:12.
Thus, in Luke 1:78, anatole could be translated “the branch from on high,” a reference similar to Isaiah 4:2, “the Branch of the Lord.” However, the translators chose “dayspring” (KJV) and “rising sun” (NIV) because verse 79 contains the imagery of light coming into darkness, just as the dawn chases away the darkness of night. The translators were likely correct in this choice, though the idea of “the branch” is lurking in there too. It appears that Luke uses anatole as a play on both meanings of the word—celebrating the Messiah as both humankind’s new branch and new day.
Christmas proclaims that God is the light of his people from all eternity. And when, in the fullness of time, Jesus came, it was to fulfill all the ordinances and messianic prophecies concerning him. These were shadows, cast by the real light, for Jesus alone is “the dayspring” (Malachi 4:2; Luke 1:78) and “the morning star” (2 Peter 1:19; Revelation 2:28 and 22:16) of the promised everlasting day in which the sun never sets. With Jesus’ first coming, the eternal morning dawned. In this we find great hope for it carries with it the promise that all wrongs will ultimately be righted and all tears wiped away. Thus Jesus’ first coming carries with it the promise of his second coming in glory, when the fullness of this hope will be realized in the new heavens and new earth, proclaimed in the book of Revelation.
Our celebration at Christmas of Jesus’ first Advent (coming) is a joyous celebration of his love, his faithfulness and the promise of the fullness of his kingdom at his second Advent. Because of his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, the love of God dwells not just among us but also, by his Spirit, in us so that we will love one another with his love in the same Spirit.
Christmas is about the light and the love of God being sent to us in a most personal way—in the incarnate person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. I pray that as you and yours celebrate Christmas with this fullness of meaning, you will find the joy, hope and comfort that come through our Lord’s presence.
Sincerely in Christ’s service,
P.S. Due to the upcoming holidays, the GCI home office in Glendora will close on December 22 and reopen on January 2. There will be no GCI Weekly Update next week—the next one will be published on January 2. And so I wish you and yours both Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Gordon Green, GCI regional pastor and pastoral developer in South Africa, played lead guitar in a rock band in the 1960s. However, music wasn’t the only interest in his early years. “When I was young (much younger!) I played a lot of sport – especially rugby. Today I enjoy following rugby and cricket. ”
Gordon grew up in Durban, South Africa and his wife Marilys grew up in Mauritius. They recently celebrated 36 years of marriage. Their son Nick and his wife Louise, who live in Durban, have two children, Jessica (4) and Zachariah (4 months). Their daughter Carrie-Anne and her husband Clay, who live in Healdsburg, California, have two sons, Brady (5) and Davis (3), with a girl on the way! Clay is a wine maker—they have a winery in Sonoma Valley (Mauritson Wines). Gordon and Marilys’ youngest son Warren, who is single, is a graphic designer in Durban.
Gordon has been a part of WCG/GCI for many years. “I first heard of WCG and the Plain Truth magazine in 1968 from a friend. He asked a WCG minister to visit him. He was invited to attend – I went along with him, even though I wasn’t officially invited – and got into a bit of trouble for that! I was specifically interested in prophecy at that time.”
In 1983 Gordon left South Africa to attend Ambassador College in Pasadena. “I was a married student with two small children.” After graduation in 1987, he worked as a ministerial trainee in Glendora, California under Dennis Wheatcroft. In 1988, he returned to South Africa and was ordained that year. Gordon has pastored GCI congregations in Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Durban.
Gordon is now GCI’s pastoral developer in South Africa and also serves as a regional pastor. He is a also a certified Walk Thru the Bible instructor. When asked what he enjoys most about these roles, Gordon said, “Most of all, I enjoy teaching—specifically participating with God to enlighten the listener’s minds. I love helping people get excited about the love of God, watching them respond and growing in faith and bearing fruit in their lives.” Just last month, Gordon coordinated and taught South African Ministries Training Program classes to potential leaders and pastors. He and Marilys have also been heavily involved in SEP since 1992 and enjoy working with the youth.
When asked what he enjoys most about being part of GCI, Gordon said, “The amazing journey (into God’s heart) that God has taken us on and continues to take us on – enjoying it and encouraging others to enjoy and learn from it as well.” His journey has been full of opportunities. He has worked at SEP camps, taught around South Africa, Mauritius and Zimbabwe, served as a regional pastor, is the presenter on the GCI Face to Face radio program and one of the writers for the GCI South African magazine Face to Face. He also plays in his congregation’s praise band. Gordon feels blessed because these things express his passions for family, teaching, learning, reading and travelling.
His most memorable moment as a pastor was baptizing his son, Nick. Following that, Gordon’s ministerial highlights include attending the International Conferences in Palm Springs and Orlando.
Gordon has had an amazing journey with GCI—and is especially excited about the direction in which God is taking GCI in Trinitarian theology—“the past five years have been the most exciting, enlightening and fulfilling years of my life in the church.” When does he feel closest to God? “When I stop talking to God, get quiet and listen to him.”
Significant things often start with a conversation between friends. Such was the case when five young women – Jesanya Scale of Jamaica, Natalie and Tabitha Wendt of Tennessee, and Michelle and Annie Fleming of Orlando discussed their passion for mission while meeting last spring at the Generations Ministries Camps and Mission Events Leadership Summit held near Dallas, Texas.
The outgrowth of the conversation was a mission trip held last July to support the annual Vacation Bible School (VBS) held in Jamaica (for a previous GCI Weekly Update report on this trip, click here).
Because of the success of the Jamaican mission trip, the girls are now planning follow-up trips in 2013 and 2014. In addition to again supporting the Jamaican VBS, they will be conducting a one-day family enrichment seminar in 2013 and a one-day health clinic in 2014.
The girls, along with the Jamaicans, are grateful to GCI’s Orlando church, pastored by Steve Schantz, for their financial and prayer support of this mission work. Over the past year, the congregation has kept a J.A.M. (Jamaica Ambassadors Mission) jar on a table at services to collect donations. In preparing to help fund the 2013 trip, the congregation hosted a fund raising concert on December 2 (pictured below) where over $900 was raised.