GCI Update

Our true identity

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

joeandtammyI can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the phrase, “I’m finding myself,” or “I’m searching for my true self.” This search for one’s identity seems to begin in the teen years and continues into retirement. I suppose this journey of self-discovery dates back to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden where humanity lost sight of who they are in relation to God.

The story, found in the third chapter of Genesis, is not always viewed from the most accurate perspective. The book of Genesis begins with God creating the universe and declaring it “very good.” Then in chapter three, Adam and Eve disobey and are expelled from the garden. While it’s not hard to understand that doing the opposite of what is good can be bad for you, there’s more to the story than the one that many tell of an angry God who doles out punishment commensurate with the crime.

The idea that Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden is about an angry God who cannot allow himself to be stained by being in the presence of sin is false. Were it true, we’d have to toss out the Bible, because it tells of a God who first dwelt in the midst of his sinful people Israel, then sent his Son to live among sinners as their friend. Biblical language that speaks of God as being “separate from sinners” is metaphorical, representing the fact that God does not approve of evil. Rather than separating himself from sinners, God sent his Son right into the vortex of our sinful condition.

Used with permission, ReverendFun, copyright © 2008, The Zondervan Corporation.

It is fundamentally wrong to think of God as a cosmic sheriff who, in order to uphold his justice, waits for Adam and Eve to violate his law. But if that’s not the way God is, why did he command Adam and Eve to not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why did he then bar Adam and Eve from reentering the garden after they disobeyed? We understand only when we rid ourselves of faulty perspectives and read the story from a Christ-centered perspective, understanding that it is part of the larger story of God’s plan of redemption and reconciliation brought about by his Son.

From that viewpoint, we see that Adam and Eve were created with a distinct identity—belonging to God and bearing his image. Humanity was created to live in community with God, in daily communication with him. Adam and Eve were created to be God’s co-regents over the garden. To borrow a modern idiom, “They had it made in the shade.”

But Adam and Eve lost sight of that identity and were deceived into thinking they had to figure things out on their own. They believed the lie that if they did what God warned them not to do—eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—they would actually become like God, deciding what was good and what was evil. They began to wonder what else God was keeping from them. They began to distrust God and instead trust their own judgments. It seemed to them that if they were going to be truly free, like God, they couldn’t depend upon God. He only told them about good and how to experience it—not about evil. They reasoned that they could only be free by getting to know both good and evil through their own experience and by deciding for themselves how to conduct their lives.

The results were, of course, disastrous. As one author noted, Adam and Eve “dissed” themselves. Their thinking became filled with dis-honor, dis-turbance, dis-trust, dis-grace, dis-repute, dis-belief and dis-respect. Not being God, they did not have the capacity to discern the difference between all good and evil. Even worse, they cut themselves off from a trusting relationship with God. As a consequence, all humanity has suffered: “…Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12).

The story continues in Genesis: And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life” (Genesis 3:22-24). In disobeying God, Adam and Eve gained some knowledge but lost far more. In particular, they lost the knowledge of who they were in relation to God. They lost their true identity. They now had the task of discerning right from wrong but were not prepared to handle that responsibility. As God had warned, their distrustful disobedience brought its own inherent consequence or penalty—the price for pursuing the knowledge of evil was death.

An important truth that we should not miss in this narrative is that God’s action to prevent Adam and Eve from returning to the garden of Eden was not punishment. Rather, it was protection. Had they returned and eaten from the tree of life, they would have lived forever in their fallen condition. God loved them too much to allow that to happen.

Adam and Eve’s decision to disobey did not surprise God. He foreknew what they would do. And, using a modern expression, he “already had it covered.” The ransom was paid, the lamb was slain “before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20, ESV; Revelation 13:8, ESV). God’s plan already included restoration and redemption. There was a prophetic element in what God did to clothe Adam and Eve when they were expelled from the garden: “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). This was not the first time animals would be sacrificed to provide a covering for sin. Like Israel’s animal sacrifices, this act pointed to the second Adam who would cover the sins of the whole world.

Clothing Adam and Eve and banning them from the garden were acts of God’s love and grace. He was protecting them—showing them mercy—when they didn’t know they needed it. Sadly, in the darkness of their misunderstanding, they probably left Eden wrongly believing that God was angry with them, punishing them for wrongdoing. This misunderstanding was the result of them not knowing their true identity, not understanding that they were God’s beloved children. As a result, they went on a wrong-headed search for identity—attempting to find it through self-effort, thus putting themselves on a path of self-justification. Notice the blame-shame game that went on between Adam and Eve when God found them and attempted to give them an opportunity to confess. That fruitless search for self-identity continues today as people try to “find themselves.”

Losing all sense of their true identity was bad news for Adam and Eve and for all humanity after them. But there is good news—Jesus came to restore, redeem and reconcile us, by telling us who he is and who we are in him. We no longer have to search for our true identity. It is restored and given to us as a free gift. We are made in the image of God, we have been reconciled to him in his Son Jesus Christ, and we belong to him once again. We now are called to share in God’s own love and life—to live as his beloved children in the presence and power of his Spirit. “I once was lost but now am found,” and I am looking no further.

Living in my true identity,
Joseph Tkach signature



P.S. I came across an excellent video from Volkswagen recently. I wish every teen and the many adults who text and drive would view it. You’ll find it at http://youtu.be/JHixeIr_6BM.

For another post on the topic of our true identity, see the post at https://update.gci.org/2014/10/our-true-identity-and-significance/.

Tipp City outreach

The article below was published in a local newspaper concerning the community outreach of CrossRoads Christian Fellowship, GCI’s church in Tipp City, Ohio (the church building, referred to in the article as “CrossRoads Community Center” is pictured here).

Tipp City

TIPP CITY – Tipp City will be home to a cooperative project designed to feed the hungry, provide resources to the needy, and create vital community connections between all walks of life. ONE Market (which stands for Our Neighbors Empowered) will open on June 21 at the CrossRoads Community Center at the corner of Broadway and Third Streets. The Market will be held every Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The project is coordinated by CrossRoads ConneXions, a non-profit that operates out of the community center. Three primary programs will be housed under the ONE Market umbrella: One Bistro, Flea Market and FREE Market. Although the goal is to provide a hand up for those in need, the market theme and products will be of interest to all, organizers say.

“We invite everyone – regardless of your income level – to take part in this celebration of all that we have as Americans,” said Jim Valekis, Pastor of CrossRoads Christian Fellowship. “This is a chance to help those in need, to connect with others, or to enjoy our flea market goodies, educational opportunities, the amazing One Bistro meals and so much more.”

One Bistro – The One Bistro food truck is an extension of One Bistro Restaurant and “businestry” in Miamisburg, where renowned chef Rob Adamson uses his culinary skills and industry contacts to make a difference in the lives of others. “One Bistro exists to share love, give hope and provide a sense of community,” said Valekis, who quoted Adamson’s vision that the pay-what-you-can restaurant is “dedicated to serving our neighbors, the privileged and underprivileged, by giving a hand up not a hand out.”

“That’s the same spirit we will have at One Market – people coming together to share resources, knowledge, and their love for their fellow man. It will be fun, light-hearted, and just a great opportunity to touch lives and enjoy great food,” Valekis said.

The One Bistro truck provides Chef Rob’s acclaimed gourmet meals at pay-what-you-can prices. “Those with resources can enjoy a great meal and ‘pay it forward,’ if they like,” Valekis said. “Those without resources can eat, and, if they choose, offer some volunteer hours in return.”

The food truck – and the ONE Market concept – is open to residents from any community in the region. For those interested in offering volunteer hours in exchange for meals or products, ONE Market officials will attempt to connect them with volunteer opportunities in their own communities.

FREE Market – FREE stands for Food, Resources, Education and Empowerment. A variety of projects will fall under the FREE Market umbrella, according to Valekis. This includes a freecycling station with gently used household goods that can be traded or acquired at no charge, free classes on healthy cooking, exercise, or other topics and periodic features like a job fair, resume help, veteran’s services and wellness checks. The station will also offer a weekly grocery giveaway. Local grocers such as Dorothy Lane Market, Kroger and others donate their almost-expired but still perfectly edible food items to an area supplier, who makes them available to ONE Market. Additionally, organizers encourage non-profits from across the region to set up here on Saturday and offer help and resources, in addition to seeking volunteer support.

Flea Market – Will be a traditional flea market style set-up. Booths will offer gently used household goods at reasonable prices, as well as hand-crafted items, produce, arts & crafts and more. There will be no charge to set-up but vendors are asked to fill out an application and make a donation to CrossRoads ConneXions.

“We figure folks can come see us once they are finished shopping at the Tipp City Marketplace downtown. By stopping here for a lunch break they can try the gourmet meals served by One Bistro,” Valekis explained, adding that the food truck will be located at the downtown Marketplace in the morning and will move to the ONE Market site in time for its 11:30 opening. “The whole point of this project is to make connections…between individuals, organizations and agencies.”

Summer camps

Summer is a busy season for youth camps in GCI around the world. Here are reports from recently completed camps in the Philippines and in India.


Eastern_Visayas2This year, three SEP camps were held in the Visayas region of the Philippines, serving a total of 145 campers. Some of the campers and staff had endured the horrors of the Bohol earthquake in October and supertyphoon Yolanda in November of 2013. These disasters occurred at the time camp planning normally would have been underway. Instead, GCI Philippines focused on disaster relief and rehabilitation. Nevertheless, God provided not only one camp in the Visayas, but three!

One of those blessed by these camps was Juvy, a camper from Tacloban, which had been “ground zero” for Yolanda’s devastation. During camp, Juvy tearfully recalled the tragedy in which her best friend died in the supertyphoon. She remembered how Tacloban residents had been going about their normal laidback ways (including karaoke and drinking sessions) the night before Yolanda hit. In the aftermath, some survivors wanted to “rent” her father’s acetylene torches for 50,000 pesos ($1150.00) so they could break into bank vaults. Her father refused. Several days later, GCI Philippines director Eugene Guzon and others visited and Juvy’s father was given 50,000 pesos in assistance! Juvy spoke about the goodness of God expressed through the church. This goodness raised the hopes of the downcast. Juvy was one of five youths at camp who, in being baptized, indicated their commitment to follow Jesus as one of his disciples.


SEP IndiaGCI in India held a summer camp in early May in the city of Hyderabad. 40 campers, age 10 to 15 were served by eight staff members. Most of the campers were from the Faust School and friends of our children from church.

Each day, camp began with physical activity, breakfast, another round of games and then a Bible study and values education followed by lunch. After lunch campers rested for a while since the temperature outside was touching 40° Celsius (104°F). Evening programs began with tea and snacks at 4:00, then games and swimming until sundown. Children watched a movie before dinner and later updated their journals and retired for the day.

SEP India pick upPastor Dan Zachariah taught the Bible studies, explaining the love of God and how he made things possible for us to live in relationship with him. He also taught the children how to journal—reflecting on how they spent the day with their friends. Guidelines on public speaking were discussed in one of the classes and all the children were given the opportunity to deliver a speech. The importance of community service and being environmentally conscious were made known to the children. The children enjoyed picking up garbage and attempted cleaning jobs people usually don’t like to do in the community (see picture at left). Besides these activities, the campers enjoyed trekking, rope climbing, swimming and rain dancing.

Himalayan Bible School graduation

This update is from Rod Matthews, GCI mission developer in southeast Asia.

The inaugural session of Himalayan Bible School (HiBiS) held in Kathmandu, Nepal, concluded in May with its first graduation ceremony. HiBiS is an initiative of Deben Sam, the senior pastor of Himalayan Gospel Church. It is underwritten by the Mission Fund of GCI Australia.

HiBis graduates and instructors (Deben Sam is at far left)

This first HiBiS session began with 18 young men and women coming together from rural villages and the city of Kathmandu for an intensive three-month course, which preceded nine months of practical field work and application of what they had learned back home. Taught by Deben Sam, his brother-in-law, Raju and Pastor Thomas of their local Kathmandu congregation, the classes covered a range of biblical education and practical outreach and evangelism subjects.

The young people selected for this first HiBiS session were chosen from attendees of a mobile three-day Bible school, which Deben and a small team conducted last year in a number of rural villages where there was a congregation and/or people interested in the Christian message.

GCI has been involved in a partnership with the Himalayan Gospel Church for about eight years, providing literature and funding the translation and printing of literature which has been translated into the Nepali language for distribution to rural and urban pastors and literate Christians in remote villages; supporting a basic medical clinic offering free consultation and medicines to the poorest people such as brickyard workers and street sweepers; and among other things, contributing to the upkeep of 16 orphans that Deben and his extended family care for in their home in Kathmandu.

Deben’s goal is to conduct HiBiS as an annual event. After their period of practical service, and from those whose work is affirmed by their local congregation, Deben hopes that funds might permit a few be chosen to take up full time ministry and evangelism so that the good news can be spread further to reach the majority of people in Nepal who are not Christian.

Ministry coaching

Through Church Administration and Development (CAD), GCI-USA trains and certifies ministry coaches and offers coaching to its pastoral leaders including church planters and pastors of established churches. For information about GCI’s coaching services, go to www.gci.org/coaching, and watch this video from CAD ministry coaching coordinator, Anthony Mullins:

On YouTube at http://youtu.be/BzURzDBr2TU.

Ginny Dietrich

Here from her husband Larry Dietrich, is an update on the previous prayer request for Ginny Dietrich.

We have positive news to report! And for that I want to thank all of you for your thoughtfulness, well wishes, outpouring of love and concern, and most of all your prayers.

Following surgery, Ginny had been in a medically-induced coma to allow her body to fight the infection and recover from the shock of surgery. On Friday, the surgeon told us he had stopped the sedative, and she would begin to wake up slowly. Well, today (Sunday) she was awake and much more responsive. She still has the ventilator, so she can’t speak, but nods her head to respond, turns her head to look at us. She had a normal cat scan of her head, showing that her brain is fine. Her lungs are clear, blood pressure and temperature normal, and they are reducing the ventilator assistance.

So that means she is ready for the next step, which is to transfer her to a “high level rehab” hospital in La Mirada, where they can continue her care, wean her off the ventilator, and continue to work with her as she further awakes and responds. We are very encouraged by this news. Thank you again for your concern and prayers. Please keep it up. The family is coping better with this news. It was pretty rough for a while.

Cards may be sent to:

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

Kay Persky

Bob and Kay
Bob and Kay

Kay Persky, the wife of Bob Persky (senior pastor of GCI’s Pathway of Grace Church in Mesquite, Texas), underwent triple-bypass surgery on Monday. As of this writing, she is recovering in the hospital. The surgery went exceptionally well and now the concern is to avoid post-surgery complications.

Please pray for Kay’s rapid and complete recovery and also for Bob, the rest of Kay’s family and their congregation, as they go through this difficult time together.

Cards may be sent to:

Kay and Bob Persky
129 Star Point Lane
Weatherford, TX 76088-6409

John Connors

John Connors, Boston-area GCI elder, is battling pancreatic cancer and suffering from severe pain. John would greatly appreciate your prayers for God’s healing.

Cards may be sent to:

John Connors
232 Pearl Street
Newton, MA 02458-1345

Grace Communion Seminary

gcs logo goldGrace Communion Seminary is currently in the process of re-accreditation review with Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). Initial accreditation is for three years, from June 2012 until June 2015. Re-accreditation will be for five more years.

Grace Communion Seminary is now accepting applications for fall admission. Generally, prospective students must already have an accredited B.A. or B.S. degree. Application forms are available on the seminary website, www.gcs.edu. No log-in is necessary. The form can be found on the left side of the homepage under Admissions and Records.

Leonard Banks

Leonard and Patama Banks

Leonard Banks, senior pastor of Abundant Grace Church, our GCI congregation in Rochester, New York, started attending the Rochester congregation in 1991. “I was watching The World Tomorrow with HWA and heard him say a few things that got my attention. One was his statement (while pounding on the desk and quoting Revelation 21:2) that, ‘The New Jerusalem is coming down from heaven.'”

Leonard grew up in Rochester with three brothers. “We all were into sports—we played football and wrestled through high school. After I graduated I returned to coach the JV wrestling team. I had aspirations of becoming a pro football player, but two separated shoulders and a concussion (during which I lost my memory—scary) changed my plans. I did get a kick out of going to a football camp in Boston where I met Joe Namath and some other pro football players.”

As a bivocational pastor, Leonard works for the City of Rochester in the refuse department. “I’ve been employed there for 30 years. I’m a professional heavy equipment operator (boom truck)—the truck with the big claw bucket. I have become quite good at picking up things. Just the other day a man watching me said I handle the boom like a surgeon.”

Leonard and his wife Patama have been married for 32 years. “She was born in Thailand and is a great cook. She really helps keep me grounded and focused on the Lord. She is the person that talks about God and Jesus more than anyone I know. Patama is a constant reminder to me that God is in charge.” Leonard and Patama have one daughter, Arianne Banks, and twin stepsons, Derrick and Davin Tillman. They also have five grandchildren, Darius, Geo, Tajh, Drew and the newest, India, who was born April 11, 2014.

After joining GCI, Leonard got to know Ken Williams who was pastor of the Rochester church at that time. “Ken ordained me in August 1999 and took me under his wing to help groom me.” Leonard replaced Ken as pastor 15 years ago.

When asked what he enjoys most about being a pastor, Leonard talked about watching people grow. “I would have to say being able to help people spiritually then see them grow in the grace of God and seeing the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives.”

About GCI, Leonard said, “I marvel at the direction the Spirit is leading our leaders who then funnel that understanding to our local churches around the world. When we come together and share our experiences with each other we see the same Spirit working and achieving the same goal—to make disciples.”

When asked about his most memorable moment as a pastor, Leonard shared a story about someone being healed right before his eyes. “This one was a learning experience for all people involved. This young girl suffers from sickle cell anemia and was in the hospital about six months out of the year. At the age of 13 she was having a bad time on that day with a temperature of 103 and pulse of 170. I anointed her and asked for two things, her temperature and pulse to return to normal; within two seconds everything returned to normal. She didn’t return to the hospital for another 12 years for her chronic illness.”

Leonard noted that his passion is helping people stay focused on our Lord and Savior. “It seems that people easily lose sight of Jesus in the midst of life’s difficulties. I bet you that in every sermon I give, I somehow come back to reminding the congregation to stay focused on Jesus.”

When asked when he feels closest to God, Leonard said, “During the morning devotionals my wife and I have together before I go to work. It helps us focus and prepare ourselves for the day.”