GCI Update

Setting a course for life

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachI hope you are as excited as I am to read the reports from our youth camps (click on the link at left to read recent reports). At our camps, which are scattered around the world, thousands of young people are setting a course for life. This is vital, because so many young people today are growing up in a world of negativity, defeatism and failure. Our campers have lots of fun at camp, but it’s fun with a purpose. They learn first-hand about choosing to live life in relationship with God.

northern light2It’s sad that many young people don’t know about that choice. They grow up in an environment where knowledge of God is considered superfluous, even dangerous. Note Paul’s warning about that:

The basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being…. (Romans 1:20, The Message).

We hold our youth camps in areas of natural beauty, so everyone can have a “long and thoughtful look” at the creation, and thus learn more about the Creator. Sadly, many today deny that there is a Creator, attributing everything in our world to only natural, material causes. Paul warned of that danger:

People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life (Romans 1:21-22, The Message).

I have followed with interest the research concerning human consciousness, including the topic of free will. As illustrated at right [1], some scientists believe that what we call “free will” may be little more than the “background noise” of neurons firing within our brains. One researcher put it this way:

Though purposeful intentions, desires and goals drive our decisions in a linear cause-and-effect kind of way, our finding shows that our decisions are also influenced by neural noise within any given moment. This random firing, or noise, may even be the carrier upon which our consciousness rides, in the same way that radio static is used to carry a radio station. [2]

Some neuroscientists have declared that, “Free will is an illusion.” They believe that our thoughts, decisions and behaviors are solely the products of impersonal biochemical processes operating within the brain and body. [3] But if they are correct, why accept as true what anyone’s brain comes up with? The problem with their declaration is that, rather than being scientific, it’s the outcome of philosophical assumptions that determine how relevant scientific data is selected and interpreted.

It’s interesting to note that a recent study concluded that when people are told that free will does not exist, their brains tend to follow suit. Subjects in the study reading passages discrediting the idea of free will experienced an immediate decrease in brain activity related to voluntary action. Other studies found that discrediting free will seems to trigger an increase in cheating and aggressiveness—encouraging people to be less helpful and generally sapping their motivation. It seems that embracing a purely materialistic understanding of free will causes people to become, as Paul wrote, “illiterate regarding life.” That’s why it’s so important that we give young people a solid biblical foundation.

The Bible tells us that God created us in his image and in his divine freedom, granted us freedom to discern the truth and the good and then act on it. God does not force his will on us—he does not absolutely prevent us from abusing our freedom and throwing it away. But as we surrender our wills to God and his will for us, a great work of renovation occurs—a process brilliantly described by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

Young people (and old) who understand this biblical truth will never be illiterate regarding life. I’m thankful that our youth camps are helping so many young people set a course for life that embraces the knowledge of God and his plan for humanity. My thanks to all who are making that possible!

Your brother in Christ,

Joseph Tkach


[1] Found at http://briankellysblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/stanford-physicist-vast-powerful-realm.html

[2] “Is Free Will an Illusion,” Pacific Standard, http://www.psmag.com/navigation/health-and-behavior/free-will-illusion-83861/.

[3] “Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?”,  New York Times, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.


Raul Ramos

RAMOS, Raul & Sylvia IMG_7128
Sylvia and Raul

Raul Ramos, pastor of Desert Oasis Community Church, the GCI congregation in Lancaster, California, grew up in Puerto Rico. “I moved with my mom and brother to New York City when I was 12. I learned English at that age. Being bilingual has given me opportunity to serve in speaking and training people who are Spanish-speaking. This has brought me to various countries as well as to translating duties at CAD conferences.”

While in New York, Raul began attending WCG. “I started around September 1964. My next-door neighbors, who were members, invited my brother and me to their home to share Bible study. After seeing their example, we decided to attend. I couldn’t have imagined then that I would someday marry their eldest daughter Sylvia.” Eight years later, Raul and Sylvia were married. “We have been married for 42 years. We have two sons. Steven Ramos (married to Elizabeth) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They have 3 children: Elijah, Zoe and Josiah. David Ramos is single and lives in Fullerton, California.”

Raul felt a calling to serve God at an early age. “When I was a boy in Puerto Rico, I had a dream in which I was preaching to a group of people. From that time on, I felt God calling me into ministry.” Sylvia became his ministry partner. Raul says that she is involved in “almost every aspect of my ministry. My wife and I were very involved with the local church—serving, translating and visiting those who were Spanish-speakers. Eventually the Brooklyn-Queens church started a Spanish-language service, which I helped lead. We grew to approximately 75 members. I coordinated the service, gave sermons and conducted baptism and marriage counseling. As my responsibilities grew, I felt the need to be better prepared, so I applied for Ambassador College in 1982. Upon arrival, I was hired to serve in the ministry by Mr. Tkach Sr.”

Raul said he loves being a pastor and his most memorable moment was baptizing his sons. “I love God and I love serving him. The church is my family. My wife and I love to see new converts and maturing members grow in their relationship with our Triune God and with their family in Christ. There is no greater work on earth, in my opinion.”

Concerning his appreciation for GCI, Raul said, “Though it was difficult in the beginning, I believe that the transformation of our denomination is nothing short of a miracle.” Raul has had his trials. “About 18 months ago I went through renal failure and a diabetic coma with serious complications. I know that many were praying for me, and God raised me up. Thank you all for the prayers and thank God for his loving-kindness and deliverance. I am happy to still be above ground and pastoring part-time.”

When Raul isn’t serving the congregation, he tries to get out to enjoy his other passion, which is fishing. When asked when it is that he feels closest to God, Raul said, “When I am worshiping, I feel his presence.”

Freedom service

GCI’s Church of the Living Waters in Charlotte, North Carolina, went “old school” in holding a July 4 holiday weekend worship service. They based the service on the way the church might have gathered in its earliest days. The general theme was Freedom in Christ and there was no pre-planned order of service. The members had been asked to bring to the service what the Spirit laid in their hearts to bring: a poem, literature, questions, a passage of Scripture, a song, a testimony.

Ron Garrett
Pastor Ron Garrett

The service was facilitated by pastor Ron Garrett (pictured at right), who began by breaking bread and then sitting down, inviting members to come forward, in an orderly flow, bringing with them their contributions. In that way, the whole service was considered “communion.” Songs were perfectly distributed among the different presentations. The service concluded with the drinking of the communion cup, with toasts raised to Jesus.

Everyone felt that the service was special. Some young participants commented that “they felt love in the room.” Here are comments from others:

  • From Joe McClure: “The service was inspirational and Spirit-filled. It’s always good to acknowledge the fact that we are truly blessed to be able to assemble and worship God any time we choose, without fear of being persecuted or imprisoned. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters worldwide do not have the same freedom. It’s good to know that someday soon they will.”
  • From James Gray: “The service was wonderful…listening to different ones share their thoughts about how God is great, so good to us—faithful in providing for our physical and eternal needs. We could never praise God enough.”

Youth camp reports

Here are reports from recently held GCI-USA Generations Ministries sponsored youth camps.

Higher Ground (Tennessee/North Carolina)

Higher GroundOur new location this year (Camp Wesley Woods) was a huge hit. We had 128 campers (with 30% of them new to camp). They all enjoyed our Superhero theme. Our 52 staff members where heroes in their own right. They added some new activities this year including hiking to a beautiful waterfall, which our teens had the opportunity to rappel over (see picture at right). We also added canoeing and a creek-exploration class.

Having to move camp locations has been a blessing! I was continually reminded this year of how much God wants us to participate with him. We are looking forward to next year—some staff members want to dig deeper into ministry and we already are 100% full for camper registration. Jesus, our Superhero, is doing great things with all of our camps and I’m glad to be a part!

– Higher Ground director, Natalie Sturgeon

Northern Light (Minnesota)

northern light1This year, 44 staff and campers (see picture at right) enjoyed a week at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center. About a third of the campers and staff were first-time attendees. I marveled at the love and dedication shown by the staff members—many made great sacrifices to attend. Our week was packed with activities including high ropes, canning carrots and disk golf. Chapel messages pointed to Jesus, the supreme Superhero.

It was a joy to see so many people flourishing in a loving environment. The excitement and positive experience of this year’s camp has many making plans to attend next year.

– Northern Light director, Troy Meisner

YES Camp (Louisiana)

We had an awesome time at beautiful Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville, Louisiana—experiencing God’s work and presence. Our teen camp had 54 campers and our pre-teen camp had 42. Our 45 staffers are some of the best people in the world! Nearly 30% of our campers were there for the first time and we were excited to expand our Youth Leadership Team to include a new camp assistant director over staff, Trinity Thigpen, and new activities coordinator, Anthony Robertson. These two individuals are a blessing from God and the skills they possess are amazing.

This year, we sought to instill in our campers and staff that they, in and through the Superhero Jesus, are all superheroes. Our chapel team did an outstanding job of teaching and conveying the principles of courage and gratitude, so vital in tackling the challenges of everyday life. Other camp activities included family trivia, team-building, womanhood/manhood sessions, archery, tubing, basketball and arts and crafts.

Thanks to everyone who prayed for our success and for the constant support in other ways.

– YES Camp director, Brandon Antwine

Here is a video from the teen session at this year’s YES Camp:

(On YouTube at http://youtu.be/MfTB9oH_6lo)

Pathways (Ohio)

PathwaysThis year Pathways camp had 61 senior campers, 32 junior campers and 8 mini-campers who were served by 72 staff members. Twenty staffers were first-timers; many over age 60.

Pastor Jeff Broadnax served as our camp chaplain, giving chapel messages to the senior campers. Pastor Gary Weldon adapted the standard GCI camp curriculum for use by the junior campers. Dressed as the superhero “Average Man,” he used storytelling to bring the message alive for our younger campers.

Camp activities included archery, swimming, dance, team-building, volleyball, inflatables, kickball, laser tag and something called Nine-Square-in-the-Air. The wonderful relationship we have with outside vendors was again evident as the company, Solid Rock Sports (inflatables), waived the fee when it was necessary to make a last-minute schedule change due to inclement weather.

In addition to these activities, our senior campers participated in life-equipping tracks: photography, worship, leadership, survival and missions. Survival track participants learned how to build a fire and shelter and how to collect water. Missions track participants learned about mission opportunities while preparing for our camp’s outreach to the surrounding county—35 disadvantaged children joined us as campers for one day.

Please pray for Pathways in the coming months. We have begun looking for a new location.

– Pathways camp director, Aaron Frim

Crosswalk (Oklahoma)

Crosswalk camp is held twice each year (May and November). Attendance last May included 37 junior campers, (22 new to Crosswalk), 42 senior campers (15 new) and 12 mini-campers (six new). There were 72 staff members (16 new). This was in increase of 40 campers above last November. The increase was due largely to the involvement of several GCI churches in the region. The idea of using camp to reach kids, is catching on! The Dallas (central) congregation sent 20 campers and staff. They were led by Joe and Megan Brannen, key Crosswalk leaders who moved recently from Oklahoma City to Dallas, where they are active in ministry at the Dallas (Central) congregation.

– Crosswalk camp director, Mike Urmie

Evangelism resources

EvangelismLooking for resources to equip your congregation to share in the Lord’s work of evangelism? This important topic is helpfully addressed in the July and August issues of Equipper and in the Speaking of Life video embedded below. Here are two other sources of helpful material on the topic:

On YouTube at http://youtu.be/oPDbn8_vuyI.

Rick Ridgell

Pam and Rick Ridgell
Pam and Rick Ridgell

Prayer is requested for Richard (Rick) Ridgell, pastor of GCI’s church in Front Royal, Virginia. Rick has stage 4 lung cancer that has spread to his bones. On the plus side is that this type of cancer responds well to treatment. The doctor encouraged Rick to continue working, but tiredness and weakness are a big challenge. Rick’s wife Pam commented:

It is heartwarming to know that many people are praying for us. Rick is on the prayer lists of many churches as word has spread. We know that God is in charge as we make plans for the worst and pray for the best. It is hard to see your soul-mate suffering, but we trust God for his will in our lives. Thank you for your prayers, we will keep you updated as we go along.

Cards may be sent to:

Rick and Pam Ridgell
640 Butler Ave. 
Winchester, VA 22601

John Meyer receives award

John-Meyer-0001John Meyer (pictured at right), a GCI elder who lives in Tracy, California, recently was awarded the 2014 Teschemaker Cup.

This award is given annually by the high school that John attended in his hometown, Timaru, New Zealand. The award is given to recognize an individual alumnus for their outstanding international achievements.

Click here to read an earlier Update article about John’s substantial vocational achievements.

Pastor transition in Boston area

Long-time GCI pastor Bill Ford retired in June from GCI employment. Bill and his wife Harriet moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to New England in 1993, where Bill served as a pastor, most recently in the Holden and Waltham, Massachusetts, congregations. Bill and Harriet moved back to Cleveland to be near family (some of them are pictured below—Bill is third from left behind the couch; Harriet is third from right on the couch). The family in the Cleveland area includes eight grandchildren (a ninth lives in Las Vegas). Bill quipped, “We’re back where we started, a little beat up, but still kickin’!”


Mills_Dishon_AfrikaBill has been replaced as senior pastor in the two Massachusetts congregations by Dishon Mills. In recent years, Dishon and his wife Afrika (pictured at right) have been working to start a new GCI church in the Boston area. Now their focus will be pastoring the Holden and Waltham congregations. Those who were part of the Randolph church plant will join the Waltham congregation as they look toward future church-planting opportunities. Dishon will also continue as the director of GenMin’s New Heights Camp located in Connecticut.

Congratulations (and thanks) to Bill and Harriet and Dishon and Afrika.