GCI Update

The sure and eternal Word

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachThough in growing up in this denomination I developed a broad vocabulary (see my June 4 letter), I’m no language maven and certainly no expert in English language usage. However, I am fascinated by what some view as the decline of the English language—a decline that has been occurring for several hundred years. In the early 1700s, Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels and dean of St. Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, wrote this:

Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift

I do here in the Name of all the Learned and Polite Persons of the Nation, complain to your Lordship, as First Minister, that our Language is extremely imperfect; that its daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions; and the Pretenders to polish and refine it, have chiefly multiplied Abuses and Absurdities; and, that in many Instances, it offends against every Part of Grammar (A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue).

I wonder what Swift would write today! Word meanings slip-slide in various directions over time, often making a word’s modern usage quite different from its original. Though this “semantic shift” typically is not a problem, it’s fascinating to observe. Each year, the dictionary adds the new meanings that have developed. A recent example is the word literally. British journalist Martha Gill explains:

Martha Gill
Martha Gill

“Literally,” the most misused word in the language has officially changed definition. Now as well as meaning “in a literal manner or sense; exactly: ‘the driver took it literally when asked to go straight over the traffic circle,'” various dictionaries have added its other more recent usage. As Google puts it, “literally” can be used “to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.” 

”…Literally,” you see, in its development from knock-kneed, single-purpose utterance, to swan-like dual-purpose term, has reached that awkward stage. It is neither one nor the other, and it can’t do anything right” (“Have We Literally Broken the English Language?”, The Guardian [UK], August 13, 2013).

Examples of semantic shift abound, especially as we look back to Old and Middle English:

  • meticulous once meant “fearful or timid”
  • sensitive once meant “capable of using one’s senses”
  • thing once meant a “public assembly”
  • silly once meant “blessed” or “innocent”
  • officious once meant “hard working”
  • aggravate once meant to “increase the weight” of something
  • nice person once meant someone who was ignorant or unaware
  • awful once meant wonderful, delightful and amazing (as in full of awe), now it means exactly the opposite!

Today’s media often help bring about semantic shifts as they seek to shape opinions and thus worldviews. The shift in the meaning of the term pro-choice is an example. The idea that everyone should have the right to choose sounds logical. But labeling one side in the ongoing debate as “pro-choice” misrepresents the other side and obscures the nature of the debate, which is about making moral choices and passing laws that promote right moral choices. All criminal laws restrict behavior in some way and become laws because they are believed to be morally right and thus a means to promote the common good. Those who are opposed to legalized abortion for any reason (often referred to as pro-life) advocate laws they feel are morally right and thus will be a means to promote the common good of mothers, the unborn and all society.

Freedom is another word that has been reloaded in our culture. For many, it now means the right of individuals to do whatever they want. It thus typically means freedom from, with little conception of freedom for. It’s perhaps most often used to refer to the “freedom” of having sex with anyone—typically without any relational ties or emotional strings, duties or obligations. The moral meaning and significance of sexual relations is thereby obliterated and the result is that sexual relations become little more than matters of personal preference—like preferring (or not) anchovies on one’s pizza!

Used with permission
“Follow me!” (used with permission)

Semantic shifts like these raise an important question for us to ponder: Who is discipling us—the culture or Jesus?

I lament the current shift in the meaning of the word Christian. The word, which once meant a follower of Jesus, is shifting to become something negative. Deliberately or not, the media now often uses the word to refer to someone who is intolerant, bigoted, extreme and even hateful. Though it’s true that a few zealous and uninformed Christians are intolerant, bigoted and hateful, the vast majority are not. I have wondered out loud if this change in meaning is fueled, in part, by Christians acting as though they are Old Testament prophets rather than those who join Jesus in his loving, transforming, redeeming ministry. To combat this negativity, many Christians now refer to themselves as Christ-followers or disciples of Jesus. I believe the more we join Jesus in sharing his love and his life with others, the quicker the word Christian will again evoke positive responses.

Regardless of the many semantic shifts occurring around us, the meaning of one word never changes: Jesus. He is the Word (John 1:1, Revelation 19:13) who having been made flesh…dwelt among us (John 1:14 KJV) to redeem the world he had spoken into existence. Jesus, the Word of God, is the life (John 6:48) and light (John 8:12) of all the universe. He is our hope, security and salvation.

Through Jesus, God speaks (Hebrews 1:1-2) and we as Christians must heed his words. He said that he came to give life…to the full (John 10:10)—not to condemn, but to save (John 3:17). Having received his word of life (Philippians 2:16) we are commissioned to share it with others—reaching out to our families, friends and communities—living and sharing the gospel (Mark 16:15). Congregations involved in that sort of outreach are active participants in the continuing ministry of the Word who is full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Word meanings will, no doubt, continue to change. But, praise God, we know the Living Word who does not change. May we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).

Being blessed by the Word,
Joseph Tkach signature



P.S. In this issue of Weekly Update we give tribute to our dear brother and fellow-laborer Bernie Schnippert, who announced last week his retirement from GCI employment. As you know, Bernie is battling cancer and his declining health makes this retirement necessary. Be sure to read in this issue the announcement of Bernie’s retirement and also the “Up Close and Personal” article about Bernie’s life, including his many years of faithful, excellent service to our church. I know you’ll join me in continuing to pray for Bernie, his wife Arlene and their children and extended family.

Bernie Schnippert

BernieBernie Schnippert, who recently retired as GCI’s General Counsel, grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where, at age 11, he began attending WCG church services with his parents, Bernard and Irene Schnippert, and his sister, Karen. After high school, Bernie entered Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. He graduated in 1971.

A tall man at 6 feet, 9 inches, Bernie says his life has been greatly affected by his height. “I always feel conspicuous when I walk into a room because people tend to stare at me because of my height, and someone is always bound to approach me and ask how tall I am and whether I play basketball. If I hadn’t been in the church, I probably would have pursued basketball more wholeheartedly. I couldn’t do that, of course, because of the church’s former teaching about strict Sabbath observance.”

Bernie and Arlene2
Bernie and Arlene

Bernie met Arlene Pratt of McMinnville, Oregon, at Ambassador College. They married shortly after graduating. “Arlene has been my partner and soul mate through this entire journey over the past 43 years,” Bernie says. “The joys, the highs, the sorrows, the lows. We have experienced it all together, and I could not imagine life without her. We have three daughters, Crystal, Amber and Coral. Our lovely daughter Amber died a year ago from breast cancer. We also have four wonderful grandchildren. Crystal’s children, Clint and Heather, are 17, and Julia is 13. Amber’s daughter, Megan Patrick, is seven.”

Bernie and his three daughters
Bernie with his three daughters

Regarding his service in the church, Bernie says, “I have had absolutely awesome opportunities afforded me over the years. I entered the Canadian pastoral ministry about a year after graduation from college. I pastored in Calgary, Alberta; Edmonton, Alberta; and then in Las Vegas, Nevada, before being transferred to Pasadena in 1987.”

At church headquarters in Pasadena, Bernie served as Director of Media Operations before being appointed in 1995 as Treasurer and finally as General Counsel in 2005. “Bernie was a talented and creative church pastor serving our Las Vegas congregation when we asked him to come to HQ to combine all the church’s editorial, publishing and broadcasting functions into one coordinated media operation,” recalls GCI President, Joseph Tkach.

With a tenacious love for learning, Bernie holds both a Juris Doctor degree and a Ph.D. in Management and Administration. Dr. Schnippert has also been an active member of the California State Bar since 1992. “Bernie is one of the most devoted, trustworthy and hardest working people I have ever known,” said retired GCI vice president Mike Feazell. “We met during my sophomore year of college when we lived in the same dorm, and I was immediately impressed with his honesty, his positive outlook on life and his ‘let’s find a way’ approach to challenging projects. People used to call us ‘Mutt and Jeff’ because of our difference in height. Bernie has never ceased to be a faithful and dependable friend.”

Looking back over his career in the church, Bernie said, “The most important contributions that I feel I have made to the church are the successful sales of the Big Sandy and Pasadena campuses during a critical period in the church’s spiritual journey and establishing a sound employee retirement plan.” GCI Treasurer Mat Morgan said, “Working at first for Dr. Schnippert, and then alongside him, during those challenging years afforded me a depth of rich experience that helped prepare me for the work I’m doing now. I count it a blessing to have worked so closely with such a dynamic personality.”

Dr. Russell Duke, President of Grace Communion Seminary, said, “We herald Dr. Schnippert’s decades of service in helping the church and its educational institutions work through challenging transitions, including his assistance in preparing our seminary to meet the legal standards of accreditation. Thank you, Bernie!”

Bernie fishingBernie isn’t all work. “Until I got sick,” he explains, “my passion was fishing and camping. But now that I am mostly confined to my home, I’m back into ham radio, which has been a hobby of mine since I was 12 years old.”

Bernie has been battling a slow-moving carcinoid cancer, a major factor in his decision to retire.

“I want to thank all the people over the years who put their trust in me and afforded me opportunities to serve in so many different capacities,” Dr. Schnippert said. “It has been an exciting, sometimes even wild ride, and it has been my hope and prayer that my contribution to the Church has been a positive one.”

Pentecost in the Netherlands

In this update, GCI-Netherlands national leader Frans Danenberg reports on the Pentecost celebration of GCI in the Netherlands.

On Pentecost Sunday, five of GCI’s Dutch congregations combined for an inspiring celebration in the city of Tiel. The 130 people in attendance (pictured below) represented many languages and ethnicities (Congolese, Burundese and Dutch). Several visitors attended as the result of a newspaper ad. Also attending were pastors and members from congregations interested in associating with GCI.

Netherlands group

Frans PreachingThe celebration was a wonderful time of coming together, reflecting the theme, Unity through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13).

In my sermon (see picture at right) I challenged the audience to tell more people about God’s great love for mankind and bear more fruit of the Holy Spirit.

A highlight of the service was the combined choir (pictured below) singing ¨How Great Thou Art.” After the service we enjoyed a good meal with excellent fellowship.

Netherlands 2

Mission Developers meet

This update is from Charles Albrecht who serves on the GCI-USA Church Administration and Development team.

In May, about 30 GCI denominational leaders from around the world gathered in Somerset, New Jersey, to meet with GCI president Joseph Tkach at the annual Mission Developers (MD) conference. The group met together on May 13–15, then on May 16-18 attended the U.S. regional conference being held at the same location.

MD group1
Joseph Tkach addresses the group

During conference sessions, the MDs received updates on shared international initiatives and discussed how best to equip and coordinate GCI international mission efforts. The group also participated in exercises on transformational leadership and strategy facilitated by Dr. Jim Galvin, an organizational consultant who specializes in strategy, effectiveness and change.

In addition to covering current church and denominational business, the international team spent time focusing on future ministry and leadership needs. With this theme in mind, several international regions decided to send younger, emerging leaders to participate in the meetings with the MDs.

Gary Moore addresses the group
Gary Moore addresses the group

Each international region has its own gifts and challenges. Travel can be difficult and resources often are limited. In spite of these obstacles, it was encouraging to learn about many of the entrepreneurial ways the MDs visit remote and sometimes dangerous areas. Hearing their stories exposed conference participants to the big picture of what God is doing through GCI, and gave them new ideas for ministry. One example was South African MD Tim Maguire’s use of Google Translate to assist in gospel work, providing humanitarian assistance in Mozambique. The South African team won an award from Google for their work (to learn more go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8EZqDHKR6g).

MD John McLean addresses the group
John McLean addresses the group

The group also set aside time for ministry and family updates, leading into a time of mutual support and prayer. Located in many countries spread across five continents, the group highly values these times of sharing.

The morning before the start of the U.S. regional conference, some of the MDs took a tour of New York City. It was the first time most had visited the city and, although a little overwhelmed, they were able to such landmarks as Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and Times Square. A highlight of the visit was to partake of some New York style pizza.

The MD team greatly appreciated being able to attend the U.S. regional conference. They enjoyed hearing what was happening in the U.S. and participating in the various equipping sessions. During the regional conference, a few MDs gave updates about their region.

The annual MD meeting provides an important connecting opportunity for the international areas of GCI. Recognizing the need to purposefully build and maintain contact, the group committed to focus on developing new types of connecting links going forward.

Hindrances to evangelism

LifeWay president Thom Rainer wrote recently about seven obstacles that hinder many churches from sharing in what Jesus is doing through the Spirit to evangelize non-believers. You can read Thom’s post in his blog at http://thomrainer.com/2014/06/28/seven-factors-hindering-evangelism-churches/.

On a similar note, Greg Williams, associate director of GCI Church Administration and Development, writes about evangelism in the July issue of Equipper. You’ll find it (and all back issues of Equipper) at http://www.gci.org/equipper. U.S. senior pastors are automatically emailed Equipper each month. It’s also emailed to a distribution list. If you’d like to be added to the list, email your request to Ted.Johnston@gci.org.


Willi Mandel

This is an update to a previous prayer request for retired GCI pastor Willi Mandel and his wife Ingrid.

Willi Mandel got the results recently of a biopsy on his parathyroid gland that had been surgically removed. The results indicate that the growth on the gland was benign, so that is good news. An infection on his hand due to the IV is healing, but he still has problems with swelling in his legs and ankles.

Willi is recuperating at home and is in good spirits. The next step is to determine what to do with the growth under his chest bone.

Willi and Ingrid thank everyone for their prayers and support.

Cards may be sent to:

Wilhelm and Ingrid Mandel
747 Tanner Drive
Kingston, ON K7M 9G7

Mike Rasmussen

Here is an update from Mike Rasmussen on his previous prayer request. Mike is battling prostate cancer and recently underwent surgery.

Rasmussens 3
Juli and Mike Rasmussen

Thanks to all of you for your love and support for Juli and me. We have felt your love and prayers lifting us up in miraculous ways. The cards, letters and emails you have sent remind us that we are not going through this alone. We have felt God’s grace and loving embrace throughout this experience.

My surgery in Dallas on June 19 went well. After I had been just one night in the hospital, Juli drove me home to begin the recovery process. A couple of days ago, we returned to Dallas for a follow-up with my doctor. He shared the pathology report. The bottom line is that they were not able to remove all of the cancer in removing the prostate. But the good news is that the lymph nodes tested were cancer free. The doctor says that the hope is that the cancer remaining in my body will die off since it’s small and the prostate has been removed. They will watch my PSA level closely going forward. If it rises, there likely will be follow-up radiation.

Once again we find ourselves in God’s hands. He is the only one who knows our future. In him, we trust no matter how uncertain the future may seem. We know that he loves us, and has a plan for our lives. And we know that his plans are perfect and his timing is perfect. Every day we have is a gift and every breath is an opportunity to share his love and grace with others (with me!).

I will keep you updated. Please continue praying for God’s will in my life and for my family. We can do nothing on our own, but in and through Christ, we are more than conquerors—the victory already is ours in our beloved Lord and Savior.

Cards may be sent to:

Mike and Juli Rasmussen
12012 Surrey Ln
Yukon, OK 73099-8139

Sue Lawson

Retired GCI district and church pastor Don Lawson updates us here on the health of his wife Sue.

It has been over three years since Sue was in the hospital with leukemia. She has now been cancer free for over two years, for which we are extremely thankful. However, Sue is having problems from the chemotherapy, including memory loss and weakness.

We appreciate your prayers.

Cards may be sent to:

Don and Sue Lawson
78406 Hampshire Ave
Palm Desert, CA 92211-1954

Ginny Dietrich

This prayer request for Ginny Dietrich is from her husband Larry Dietrich, a member of the pastoral care team in GCI’s Long Beach, California church.

Ginny recently had surgery to deal with a tumor in her bowel. What they found was not good news. The entire colon was found to be diseased and had to be removed. But worse than that, the doctor found evidence of cancer throughout her abdominal area. He said that she likely had cancer for at least a year or more, without any symptoms until just recently. The doctor says that she is very ill. Naturally, this is not the result we had hoped for. The next few days will be crucial. I’ll keep you posted. Please pray that God’s will be done.

Cards may be sent to:

Larry and Ginny Dietrich
11791 Onyx Street
Garden Grove, CA 92845-1213

Woody Corsi

This prayer request is from Woodrow (Woody) Corsi, associate pastor in GCI’s congregation in Portland, Oregon.

I recently learned that I have cancer in some of my lymph nodes, my pancreas and spleen. Though the doctor says it’s slow-growing, it’s life-threatening. I’ve been referred to a cancer specialist to see what, if anything, can be done.

Just before receiving the diagnosis, I was reading these encouraging words in Scripture:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:16-17).

May our loving God watch over us all.

Cards may be sent to:

Woody Corsi
7205 SE Villa
Hillsboro, OR  97123

Bernie Schnippert retires

This announcement is from GCI president Joseph Tkach.

Bernie 2Due to ongoing health struggles, Dr. Bernard Schnippert retired on June 27 from his position as GCI’s legal counsel. My prayers are with Bernie, his wife Arlene, their daughters Crystal and Coral and their extended family during this difficult time.

Bernie has had a distinguished, unique and highly responsible career with GCI, serving the church for 42 years in numerous leadership roles. Throughout, he has been a shining example—always growing, studying and learning. His keen intellect has never rested. While employed by the church, Bernie earned a Juris Doctor and a Ph.D. in business administration. He also pursued many hobbies including fishing, ham radio operation and motorcycle restoration.

I express deep gratitude to Bernie personally and also do so on behalf of GCI’s board of directors and worldwide membership. Though most of our members have never seen Bernie in action, they have benefited greatly from his tireless work on behalf of us all.

Thank you Bernie for your unique and outstanding service to the church these many years! Your daily involvement with the church will be greatly missed. We pray that you will be able to rest and in doing so find the peace and healing you need. May God bless and keep you.

Cards of encouragement and appreciation may be sent to:

Bernie and Arlene Schnippert
64651 Jan Dr.
Bend, OR 97701


If legal issues arise, you may contact Evelyn Dailey in GCI’s legal office in Glendora at legal.office@gci.org or at 626-650-2320. Evelyn will, as needed, coordinate legal needs with outside counsel.