Merry Christmas

joeandtammyChristmas greetings!

Sometimes it’s nice to state the obvious—that’s what most Christmas cards do. In celebrating Christmas, it’s not the date of Jesus’ birth that’s important, but the stunning fact of his incarnation. In his infinite creativity and freedom, God reached down to us by becoming one of us. In doing so, he delivered the joyous good news of who he is for us and who he has made us to be in him.

Irenaeus, the second century Christian teacher, put it this way:

(c) Mercy Ink – used with permission

For, in what way could we be partakers of the adoption of sons, unless we had received from Him through the Son that fellowship which refers to Himself, unless His Word, having been made flesh, had entered into communion with us? Wherefore also He passed through every stage of life, restoring to all communion with God (Against Heresies, Book 3, 18.6-7).

As the apostle Paul explained, the eternal, all-powerful Son of God willingly put himself through this profound change, taking upon himself our fallen human nature and mortal body:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).

The angels celebrated with great joy when Jesus was born. Let us join in the celebration!

Home office staff 2013
Here are members of our home office staff who work for GCI or GCS. Not pictured are Susi Albrecht, Lorenzo Arroyo, Randy Bloom, Gary Deddo, Charles Fleming, Glenn Gordon, John Halford, Ted Johnston, John McKenna, Michael Morrison, Anthony Mullins, Rick Shallenberger, Bernie Schnippert and Greg Williams. Most of this staff work in Glendora, others work offsite; some are full time, others part time.

Along with the other members of our home office staff (pictured and listed at right), Tammy and I say “Thanks and Merry Christmas” to our pastors, ministry leaders and all the other GCI members who serve so selflessly within our part of the body of Christ.

2013 has been an amazing year in our journey together and it looks like 2014 will be another. It’s exciting to think about what God may have in store for us. We deeply appreciate your service during the year now closing and look forward to our service together, with Christ, in the year ahead.

Your brother in Christ,

Joseph Tkach

PS: Weekly Update will be published next on January 8. The home office will close on December 24 and reopen January 2. In the meantime, please note in this issue the announcement about the 2014 US regional conferences. The first one is in Southern California in February.

2014 US regional conferences

Regional conf 2014 logoGCI’s 2014 US regional conferences will be held in seven locations. With the theme shown at right, these conferences will celebrate our journey toward GCnextplanting seeds for GCI’s next generation.

We rejoice in the way God is leading us—sending the Spirit who helps us share in Jesus’ faith, love and hope (1 Thessalonians 1:2-5). At each conference, congregational and denominational leaders will report on what they have seen God doing and then share their dreams concerning what he will yet do. As you’ll see in the schedule below, considerable time will be given for small and large group discussions where we’ll come together to share our own stories, prayerfully seeking to discern what God is doing and how we may join in.

The 2014 regional conferences are open to all GCI members and friends. GCI-USA senior pastors receive continuing education credit for their attendance. Keep an eye on GCI Weekly Update for further information and registration. The costs at each location will be about the same as two years ago.

Here are the conference dates and locations:

Date Hotel/City
 February 21-23 Doubletree by Hilton-Ontario Airport; Ontario, California
 March. 14-16 Red Lion Hotel-Vancouver at the Key; Vancouver, Washington
 April 4-6 Crowne Plaza Chicago-Northbrook; Northbrook, Illinois
 May 16-18 Doubletree by Hilton-Somerset, Somerset, New Jersey
 June 20-22 Embassy Suites Lexington; Lexington, Kentucky
 July 11-13 Omi Dallas Hotel at Park West; Dallas, Texas
 August 8-10 Hilton Orlando/Altamonte Springs; Orlando, Florida


Here is the schedule that will be followed at each conference location:

Day/time Event
4:30-5:30 pm Meet with your district pastor (open to all GCI members)
5:45-6:45 pm Dinner
6:50-8:25 pm Faith – plenary session with worship and message from CAD director Dr. Dan Rogers
8:30 pm Drop-in reception for pastors and their spouses
8:45-9:35 am Morning devotional time with prayer and message on spiritual formation
9:50-10:50 am Small group discussions (addressing various topics)
11:05-12:15 pm Large group discussion (sharing our stories)
12:25-1:25 pm Lunch
1:30-2:30 PM Small group discussions (debrief what we’ve heard so far)
2:50-3:30 pm Large group discussion (report back on debriefings)
4:00-5:15 pm Love – plenary session with message from GCI president Dr. Joseph Tkach
5:45-6:45 pm Dinner
evening Free time (optional Praise & Worship gathering)
8:40-9:30 am Presentation from Dr. Gary Deddo
9:40-10:40 am Small group discussions (addressing various topics)
11:00 am-12:30 pm Hope – closing worship service; sermon from CAD associate director Greg Williams

At the Ontario, Chicago, Somerset, Lexington and Dallas conference locations, district pastors will meet on Friday afternoon, beginning with lunch at noon.

Mexican youth camp

This update is from Samuel Mercado who directs GCI’s youth camp in Mexico and serves as director of youth ministry for GCI Mexico.

Mexico bus rideOur 2013 Mexican national youth camp began with a 17 hour trip to Mexico City for those traveling from afar. From there a rented bus took the group to Ticumán where we reached a place called El Monte, which means “small mountain.”

The bus couldn’t make it up the mountain, so late at night we stretched our legs and carried our food and equipment uphill. We arrived with the help of a few flashlights and the moonlight.

Mexico rapellingOur camp, which included about 50 people, was held from November 15 through 18 in a location away from the bustle of city life. Activities included sports, games and swimming. We also had rock climbing and rappelling, which gave us a chance to exercise our faith!

Mexico worshipJoy-filled worship during camp was provided by Natanael Cruz who is the pastor of our church in Mexico City. He was joined by musicians from his congregation.

Messages in worship services and classes were given by our special guest, Anthony Mullins, director of Generation Ministries in the US. He talked about the power of listening to the story of others, telling our own story, then presenting Jesus’ story. He also taught us to study someone and tell them directly the qualities we see in them. We practiced doing this in small groups, gaining deeper communion together.

Mexico AnthonyAnthony (at center in picture at left) also talked about how our lives reflect what we believe and who we are. Our actions must demonstrate the work of God in us. Anthony showed that God’s most repeated command is, “Do not be afraid.” He discussed overcoming our fears in order to do the work of God. Natanael Cruz gave a message about keeping our bodies pure as the temple of the Holy Spirit. We also studied GenMin camp curriculum, “Kairos, It’s Time,” telling us that it’s time to Belong, Believe, Become, Behave and Begin.

Mexico class

Overall, the camp was characterized by great fellowship among the young people—sharing laughs, games, discussions, plans and projects for the future. Our camp is becoming a pathway for identifying and developing new leaders. We are initiating a national denominational effort to train and equip these young emerging leaders in theology, ministry and spiritual formation. We covet your prayers for God to guide us in helping these leaders develop according to God’s will for them.

mexico camp group 2

Christmas outreach

The following update is a reprint of an article in the Tipp City, Ohio newspaper announcing the Christmas open house conducted by CrossRoads Christian Fellowship—GCI’s congregation that meets in the heart of Tipp City’s historic district. The photographs of the open house have been added.

Church Open House Provides Unique Tour Attractions

TIPP CITY – No trip to Tipp City’s upcoming “Christmas in the Village” on Dec. 7 would be complete without visiting the “village church.” The century-plus old sanctuary that once housed St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and is now home to CrossRoads Christian Fellowship, will be decked out in a vintage Currier and Ives holiday motif, with a number of unique displays that harken back to holidays of yesteryear.

The church is a stop on the Holiday Home Tour trolley that will be taking visitors between the downtown and the tour streets of Broadway and Sixth Street.

“Our beautiful sanctuary and fellowship hall will be bathed in a winter wonderland of lights, holiday greenery, Christmas trees and a for-real antique ‘one horse open sleigh,’” said Pastor Jim Valekis.

Open house 3

Open house 4
Pastor Jim Valekis

Pastor Valekis invited visitors to “step back in time 100 years to a Christmas of yesterday, and you’ll get to see a collection of 17th and 18th century working grandfather clocks loaned to us for the celebration by the NAWCC (National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors).”

The pastor noted that CrossRoads will also host a Country Classics Furniture Collections Display, a rare public display of the master woodworking of local furniture craftsman and artisan Chris Bayman.

Another special activity on Dec. 7 is the presence of the One Bistro food truck. One Bistro is a unique “pay it forward concept” based in Miamisburg that offers gourmet food at whatever price people can afford to pay. The One Bistro concept works to bring people together with those who can help them meet challenges, overcome addiction, find answers, etc. “Their food is amazing,” Jim said. “And their vision of people giving each other a hand-up, not a hand out, is very inspiring.”

Also featured at the church throughout the Dec. 7 tour day will be an enchanted forest of stuffed animals, gingerbread people, and costumed carolers, ready to spread some Christmas cheer. Children are encouraged to come visit the fun and festive display.

The vocal talents of the Wright State Men’s Chorale will also help visitors get into the spirit of the season.

“And last, but hopefully not least: Our first ever attempt to project the Sistine Chapel onto our arched chapel ceiling through the magic of digital wizardry,” Jim said, adding that “We invite you to bring your whole family and celebrate family holiday traditions and the warmth of a small-town Christmas.”

Typhoon recovery

GCI Philippines national director Eugene Guzon recently visited the areas of the Philippines devastated by super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). Here is his update.

Estimated casualties are now about 6000, although the relief agencies believe that there are more. In Tacloban City and other coastal towns in Leyte and Samar, I have seen that the damage is indescribably terrible—massive and long-term reparation work is needed, including rebuilding of businesses and homes for the residents. A significant amount of the relief work by international agencies has concluded. Much now remains for the Filipino government workers.

Tacloban devastation 2

Tacloban, the center of the disaster area, is serving as an “exodus city” from which many people are still evacuating the area. Power lines are still down, although the government is trying to speed up restoration of power. There remains a tremendous amount of debris, crumpled structures, long lines for fuel and small makeshift homes and stores. As we personally hear survival stories directly from people and see their scars, we see the tenacious and hopeful spirit in their hearts. One sign I saw says it well: “Roofless, helpless, but not hopeless!”

Tacloban devastation

We thank God that our members survived the devastation. Some remain in their home communities and others have relocated. During the worship service held last weekend in Cebu City, our pastors who have been directly affected by the typhoon shared stories of God’s deliverance.

We praise God for our GCI family worldwide, who in the aftermath of the storm rallied to let our affected members and their families know that they are loved and cared for. Financial assistance from GCI members has been a huge blessing. Aid came from our members in the Philippines, the US (via the GCI Disaster Relief Fund), the UK, Europe, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. The outpouring of compassion and financial support has given our affected members the means to begin the long road to recovery.

New grandparents

Suzanne, Luciano and grandbaby

We’re delighted to announce that GCI pastor Luciano Cozzi and his wife Suzanne have become grandparents!

The Cozzis’ daughter Elisabetta Iannelli and her husband Alan Iannelli gave birth on December 2 to Lucas Lee Iannelli.

Luciano wrote: “Our whole family stands in awe at the miracle of a new life. We are grateful that both mother and baby are well (daddy is still recovering!).”

Luciano's grandbaby
Father, mother and baby

John Knaack

John and Hannah Knaack
John and Hannah Knaack

John Knaack, pastor of Living Hope Christian Fellowship in Buffalo, New York, grew up on a dairy farm in central Wisconsin. “I began attending WCG in 1974 after my dad and I began listening to The World Tomorrow. We asked for a ministerial visit and were invited to attend the local congregation.”

John’s parents and most of his siblings eventually became WCG members. About his early life, John says, “I loved the fact that our family had many activities and social events that involved extended family and I realize now how much that shaped me to be part of a bigger spiritual family.”

John went to Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas in 1976. After the campus closed, John transferred to the Pasadena campus for a year. In 1978, that campus started reorganizing and John left for a year to return in 1979. He was part of a ministry training program during his senior year (1981). That May, John was hired to serve as a ministerial trainee. His first assignment was Monroe, Louisiana.

John met Hannah (Pope) in college and their relationship blossomed while serving at the SEP camp in Orr, Minnesota. “Hannah and I celebrated 32 years of marriage last October; we were married in Wausau, Wisconsin, six weeks after our second year as SEP counselors.” John says, “God has blessed us with three children: Matthew is an officer with the Milwaukee police department, Sarah and Andrew live locally and enjoy coming over to harass their dear old dad on frequent occasions. Hannah and I have been dropping hints about grandchildren, but they seem to fall on deaf ears. Hannah’s mother has lived with us for the last four years. She will celebrate her 90th birthday in May.”

After getting married, John and Hannah began serving three congregations in Monroe. “From there we moved to Iowa where we served for ten years. We are in our 17th year of service here in the snow belt of Western New York.” John says he and Hannah love old movies. “And soon I’ll be watching my favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.”

About being a pastor, John shares, “I truly enjoy being able to help people through the difficult journey of life. I’ve noticed over the years that my gifts fall in areas of comfort and encouragement. I receive more feedback from this area than any other. Pastors like encouragement, too!” This ties in with what John enjoys most about being part of GCI. He loves, “being able to freely share how much God loves each person. I realize this can be done outside of a church, but this is where being a part of GCI has brought me over the years.”

When asked about his passion, John said this: “Bottom line: telling others how special they are to our Lord and how much he cares for them. I find this to be the central theme in my sermons and in my work as a chaplain.

Due to declining financial resources, John took a second job as a chaplain. “Because of our transitions in GCI, I’ve been encouraged to share the gospel wherever I go. My work as a chaplain allows me to do that. I’m now a division director with Marketplace Chaplains, USA where I oversee 60 chaplains in the upper Northeast. I love most of the work, but driving in Boston traffic is not one of them!”

John said his most memorable moment as a pastor was “being able to baptize each of my three children!” When asked when he feels closest to God, he said, “It’s in the ‘aha!’ moment that comes after I’ve been burdened with an issue or trial for some time and finally I hear the Spirit’s voice in the matter. Praise God!”

Central America visit

This update is from Hector Barrero, GCI’s mission developer in Central and South America.

Honduras childrenIn early December I visited three GCI congregations in Central America. I started with the San Pedro Sula congregation in Honduras, where we held three meetings—first with 36 children (see picture at right), then with the youth and finally with all members—about 40 total (pictured below). It was nice to spend time with Pastor Marco Antonio Mejia, his family and the members. The congregation is doing a good job helping poor children in a nearby neighborhood.

Honduras congregation

We then traveled by car to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, where we had dinner with Pastor Mauricio Diaz and other pastors and their wives (pictured below).

Tegu dinner

We met for church the next day with about 65 people in attendance (pictured below). The Tegucigalpa church is a truly happy and enthusiastic congregation.

Tegu worship

I then flew to San Salvador, El Salvador. Pastor David Agreda hosted a dinner at his home. Several members attended. The next day we held a worship service with about 30 attending (pictured below).

San Salvador group

Ruth Miller

This note from pastor Bob Miller updates an earlier prayer request for his wife Ruth.

Ruth thanks everyone for their prayers, cards, love and concern. After a time with a lot of pain, her pain and muscle spasms have improved greatly!

Following recent x-rays the doctors gave Ruth an immobilizer in place of the heavy cast that she had been wearing. She would appreciate your continued prayers for her complete recovery.