GCI Update

Trumpets: a festival fulfilled in Christ

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

joeandtammy

I was greatly saddened to learn last week that my dear friend and long-time colleague Bernie Schnippert had died (see the announcement linked at left). Please join me in praying for Bernie’s wife Arlene, for their daughters Crystal and Coral, and for the rest of the family. Bernie will be greatly missed, though we take comfort knowing that he is now free from pain and that we’ll see him again.

September is a busy month! In addition to back to school activities, there are celebrations of all sorts of things. In the U.S., September 15 is National Cheese Pizza Day and the first Monday of the month is Labor Day, which celebrates the achievements of workers and marks the unofficial end of summer. In Australia, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Queen’s September birthday is celebrated with a holiday.

September also includes the Jewish festival called “Rosh Hashanah,” which in Hebrew means “the head of the year.” Among the traditions practiced by the Jews on that day are eating the head of a fish to symbolize the head of the year and greeting one another with “L’shanah tovah,” meaning “for a good year.” Tradition also correlates Rosh Hashanah with the sixth day of creation week when God made mankind in his image.

In the Hebrew text of Leviticus 23:24 the day is referred to as “Zikhron Teru’ah,” meaning “a memorial with the blowing of horns.” And so in English, the day often is called the Festival of Trumpets. Many rabbis teach that on Rosh Hashanah, a shofar (a trumpet carved from a ram’s horn) was blown a minimum of 100 times, including a series of 30 blasts indicating the hope of the Messiah’s coming. I have a shofar, and I can tell you it’s hard to make any sound when you blow into it. I’ve read that at Rosh Hashanah services, it was common to have a second trained person in the wings just in case the first one was unable to complete the task of blowing the shofar the required number of times.

Jewish sources indicate that three types of notes were blown that day:

  • Tekiah—a long unbroken tone symbolizing hope in the strength of God and praise for who God is
  • Shevarim—three shorter, more broken sounds, indicating wailing and sorrow for sin and fallen humanity
  • Teruah—nine quick, staccato notes (like the sound of an alarm clock) representing the broken hearts of those who come to God

Regarding Teruah, the Talmud says this: “When there’s judgment from below, there’s no need for judgment from above.” Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (known as Maimonides), perhaps the greatest Jewish scholar and teacher of the middle ages, adds this important qualification:

It isn’t enough that God is my King alone. If all humanity doesn’t recognize God as King, then there is something lacking in my own relationship with God. Part of my love for the Almighty is to help guide all people to an appreciation of Him. Of course this is largely an expression of my deep caring for others. But it also affects my own sense of God’s all-encompassing Kingship.

silver trumpetsAncient Israel initially used ram’s horns for their trumpets, but by the time of Numbers chapter 10, trumpets were typically made of silver. The use of trumpets is mentioned 72 times in the Old Testament. They were sounded for various reasons: to announce national crisis, to call the nation to solemn assembly, to make announcements, and as a call to worship. In time of war, trumpets instructed soldiers as to how to prepare for and then proceed into battle. Trumpets also announced the arrival of the king.

In our day, some Christians observe the Festival of Trumpets as a mandatory day of worship, often viewing it as pointing to future events—Jesus’ second coming or the rapture of the church. As well-meaning as these interpretations of the festival may be, they miss how it points to what Jesus has done already.

As we know, the old covenant, which included the Festival of Trumpetswas temporary, given to point people to the coming Messiah who is Prophet, Priest, Sage and King. The blowing of trumpets on Rosh Hashanah not only signaled the beginning of a new cycle of annual worship in Israel, it proclaimed the celebratory message, “our King is coming!”

For me the most meaningful element of the Festival of Trumpets is how it points to and is fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming through his incarnation, atoning ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. Through these “Christ events,” God not only fulfilled his covenant with Israel (the old covenant), but changed all time, forever. Jesus is the head of the year—the head of all time, especially since he created time. He is our tabernacle and we have new life in him. As Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Jesus is the new (the second) Adam. He succeeded where the first Adam failed. Jesus is our Passover, our Unleavened Bread and our Atonement. He is the One (and only One) who takes away our sin. Jesus is our Sabbath in which we have rest from sin. As the head of all time, he now lives in us, and all our time is holy as we live the new life that is ours in union with him. Jesus, our King, our Lord and Master, has blown the trumpet once and for all!

Living in Him,
Joseph Tkach

Africa update

This update is from GCI pastor Rick Shallenberger who recently visited Malawi and Ghana on behalf of GCI president Joseph Tkach.

Malawi: new church building dedicated

GCI-Africa mission developer Kalengule Kaoma (KK) and U.S. pastor Rick Shallenberger participated recently in dedicating a new GCI church building in Mbulumbazi, Malawi, just outside Blantyre (the new building is pictured below, left). In 2012, Rick preached at the congregation’s former thatched meeting hall (pictured below, right) while visiting his daughter in Blantyre.

New church buildingMalawi church meeting place in 2012

The congregation was planted in 2009 when community leaders in Mbulumbazi asked GCI to start a congregation there. They did so because they were deeply impressed by the compassion GCI members showed in caring for a terminally ill resident of their village who formerly attended a GCI congregation in another village, but moved to Mbulumbazi to be near family and medical care.

Ribbon cutting at the new building
Ribbon cutting at the new building

So in 2010, GCI purchased a small plot of land in Mbulumbazi and built a small thatched (grass) hut where worship services were conducted. Average attendance at the time was 35. But members desired a more permanent structure, so they constructed a building on the property in 2012, and average attendance increased to 55. They delayed official dedication of the building until pastor Rick could return. Those attending the dedication last month included the village chief and headmasters, along with chiefs from adjoining villages and leaders from other denominations. Total attendance at the dedication service (pictured below) was 255.

Malawi dedication service

Malawi: leadership training conference

Malawi leadersIn addition to participating in the new building dedication, KK and Rick also conducted a two-day leadership training conference for GCI Malawi leaders (pictured at right). Rick opened the conference asking, “What does it mean to be in communion with God?” Discussing the related questions of “Who is Jesus?” and “Who are we in relation to Jesus?” led into a communion service.

In other sessions, Rick discussed how GCI theology affects mission and ministry. KK then discussed ministry in the African context, particularly with respect to church planting, leadership development and working with groups wanting to join GCI. Rick and KK also hosted a special dinner for the group on behalf of Pastor General Tkach.

Ghana: 40th anniversary celebration

40th celebrationWith the theme: Ebenezer: The Lord has been faithful and gracious to us, GCI-Ghana concluded a year-long celebration of its 40th anniversary with an eight-day festival at the church property in Kutunse, north of Accra. The property, which formerly served as the church farm, now is the location of a school and church hall (pictured at right) and hosts youth camps and other church events.

WashingtonsOne of the highlights of the festival was the return of Ghana’s first pastor, Abner and Sharon Washington (on the right in the picture at left with leaders from Ghana). Abner, now 90, said returning from the U.S. to Ghana was “a dream come true.” He and Sharon are considered the “Dad and Mom” of the Ghana churches and received a beautifully worded certificate of appreciation and a number of gifts, giving them due honor. Abner gave two of the messages during the eight-day festival.

Each day of the festival began with 30 minutes of music and devotion before the start of the service. The two-hour service featured hymns, praise songs, dancing and choir music along with the messages. Following each service, Pastor Emmanuel Okai, director of Ghana churches, presented awards and gifts to various groups who have served over the years. Speakers included Abner Washington, South Africa mission developer Tim Maguire, KK and Rick. On the final “Thanksgiving Day,” Rick greeted all on behalf of President Tkach and his wife Tammy and gave a message about our communion with the Father, Son, Spirit and each other. The 40th anniversary celebration ended with all participating in communion. Attendance averaged 500 a day with the peak of 604 on the final day.

Ghana: African national ministry leaders’ conference

Twenty-seven African national leaders and pastors (pictured below) from Nigeria, Angola, Togo, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya and Ghana, met in Accra, Ghana, from August 28 through August 31. These meetings were held in the afternoons and evenings following the 40th anniversary activities (see above). For many of the leaders, it was the first time they had met.

Arican national leaders

The meetings, which were conducted by KK, Tim and Rick, began with an address from Rick about our communion with the Father, Son and Spirit, followed by a review of the “Christ events”—Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and ascension, explaining the significance of each in our lives. Each national director then gave an update on his country. Here is a summary:

  • In Kenya, we have 16 congregations and many active ministries. Membership continues to grow, currently topping 1200 members. The challenge is finding appropriate places for worship and encouraging pastors to stay motivated.
  • In Togo we have one congregation and approx. 200 members. These numbers are down. The current project is building a social and medical center, which will not only be used for worship services, but also as a place to provide healing and a place to build relationships.
  • In Nigeria the attendance is just below 500. Nigeria is a very poor country, but God has blessed the church. There are many youth in Nigeria, and they are being connected to different areas to provide growth opportunities. They have just completed a new church building and are hopeful to build more so congregations have a base to work from.

Following these presentations KK, Tim and Rick covered various topics: theology, church planting, church development, mission/ministry, developing pastors, pastoral succession, African tradition/culture, finances, managing change, and questions and answers.

During the conference Rick and KK hosted a special dinner for the group on behalf of Pastor General Tkach. The conference, which ended with an affirmation exercise and prayer session, was a great success. Nigerian pastor Essien George summed it up well: “The last week of August 2014 is going to remain in my memory for a long time, because it was the week I had the opportunity to meet with Christian leaders, brothers and friends from GCI in other countries. I met many for the first time. It was a joyful experience that solidified the teaching and belief that we are all one in Christ Jesus.”

New mission launch near Guadalajara

This update is from Lorenzo Arroyo, GCI-USA regional pastor and mission developer for Mexico.

A new mission outreach has been launched in Colonia Santa Rosa del Valle on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico. The goal of this outreach is to work toward starting a new GCI church in the community of Santa Rosa.

???????????????????????????????The idea for this mission grew out of discussions led by Alfredo Mercado, GCI-Mexico national leader and senior pastor of the Guadalajara church. It was decided to give the green light to three Guadalajara church leaders to get the mission started. In April, Lorenzo Arroyo appointed Luis Alberto Soto, Humberto Perez and Jose Rodriguez to commence the mission work.

The mission team’s first event was a prayer meeting on June 7. Five adults and four children attended. Then on September 6, the team conducted an afternoon fiesta entitled “Mexican Tardeada.” The surrounding community was invited and the 100 people (including the 40 children) who attended enjoyed live music, singing, prayer, a sermon, food and lots of fun, including games for the children (see the picture above).

The place of meeting was a tent with a dirt floor (see below) set up on property graciously donated by a GCI couple for the use of the new church. Lorenzo (shown preaching below) gave an evangelistic sermon from Romans chapter 1, connecting the message of the gospel to the lives of the many newcomers in attendance.

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Blessing of children

One of the highlights of the event was a blessing of the children ceremony (pictured at right).

Everyone enjoyed themselves as the crowd interacted with the mission support team made up of members of the Guadalajara mother church. New people from Santa Rosa were heard asking, “When is this going to happen again? Will you be coming back?” Our response is that it’s the goal of the mission team to bless every child in that community by Christmas of this year!

???????????????????????????????During his visit to Guadalajara, Lorenzo, accompanied by Jose and Bertha Rodriguez (on the left in the picture at right), conducted a Bible study during a visit with Daniel and Carolina Blanco and their six children (pictured at right). The Blancos, who are new converts, live in Santa Rosa and have joined the mission group.

Though the lives of the Blancos have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, Daniel, a bricklayer by trade, struggles at times to find employment in the impoverished community of Santa Rosa. The family lives in an upstairs apartment no bigger than most living rooms. But they light up at hearing the word of God and have become diligent workers in the new mission.

???????????????????????????????On the day before returning to the U.S., Lorenzo attended Samuel Mercado’s presentation and defense of his thesis paper. Samuel (pictured at right) is a leader in the Guadalajara church and national youth leader for GCI Mexico. Following his presentation, Samuel was told that he had defended his thesis successfully and would be awarded a master’s degree in information technology from the University of Guadalajara. Congratulations, Samuel!

Lorenzo extends his thanks to the GCI-USA congregations who have generously supported GCI’s gospel work in Mexico. As indicated in this report, there is much to be done, but the Lord has, as always, been more than gracious.

ChurchNext training videos

In an earlier post, we reported on the ChurchNext training conducted in July in Asheville, North Carolina, by GCI Church Multiplication Ministries. Videos have been produced with excerpts from the training segments at that conference. You will find those videos in the YouTube playlist embedded below. These videos are helpful tools for equipping your congregation’s leaders and workers in key aspects of our participation with Jesus in his disciple-making mission. The videos address various aspects of that mission in and through newly planted churches and established churches.

On YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLKReP7aB2Rgai1dO6liylV2Ald3UMdtYg

Series on the Holy Spirit, part 1

In an essay entitled “Guidelines to an Understanding of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit,” Dr. Gary Deddo offers an incarnational, Trinitarian perspective on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Over the next several weeks we’ll publish his essay serially in seven parts. Here is part one (to read other parts, click a number: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Introduction

Seeking to understand and know the Holy Spirit is a wonderful and rewarding endeavor. It ties in with every aspect of the Christian faith and life. But if ever there was a topic we are likely never to get to the bottom of, this one would qualify. The very name of this Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, already tells us that we’re in pretty deep. But we do have a good amount of insight given to us by biblical revelation that can inform our understanding and help us stay away from pure speculation. God has seen fit to reveal himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and has provided and preserved teaching about the Holy Spirit. Because he wants us to know, trust and worship him, we by faith can dare to pursue understanding on that basis. But we proceed only by God’s grace.

In this essay, however, we will only touch on a few key points that address questions that are, first, foundational to our faith in the Holy Spirit and, second, are of more immediate importance given current discussions and debates. It is our prayer that this essay will also help keep further explorations and other discussions in perspective. It is not possible in a short space to offer anything near a comprehensive view, so regard this as more of a beginning than an ending.

Jesus instructs Nicodemus

I’d like to start with our recalling a passage from the Gospel of John. I’m referring to the story of Nicodemus. Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, trying to explain to him something foundational regarding the nature and work of the Spirit. Jesus says to him, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” He continues, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).

Nicodemus wants to understand how God works. Jesus tells him how God works with us is by the Holy Spirit. But Nicodemus is not exactly satisfied with that answer. He wants to know, if he can, how then the Spirit works! Jesus’ answer to that “how” question amounts to his saying: How the Spirit works is like trying to talk about how the wind works. We see the effects, but we know very little about it, not even where it was a few moments ago or where it will end up going a few moments later! The Spirit is not predictable or controllable by us. We don’t and can’t have an answer as to how the Spirit works, the mechanics of it. Apparently the “how” question is the wrong one to ask. And, given Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus, we can assume that it’s not necessary for us to know either, even to receive the benefits of the working of the Spirit!

Jesus’ “no-explanation” answer does makes sense. How can we possibly put into words, concepts and ideas something about the Spirit given that it is like the wind? You can’t actually predict its movement or say much about it except that “it blows where it wills.” The Spirit has a mind of his own! I think that’s part of our experience. The wind of the Spirit blows where it wills. We did not necessarily see it coming and don’t necessarily see exactly where it’s going. So it is with the Spirit.

Focus on the biblical teaching

So why not just stop right there? Well, in some cases I think that might be the right thing to do. There is a lot of speculation taking place, especially about how the Spirit works. However, we are given other words and descriptions in biblical revelation that refer to the Holy Spirit. But not surprisingly, they don’t tell us how the Spirit works nor especially how to bring the Spirit under our control or how we can influence or predict the working of the Spirit. Rather, most of what we are given relates to the nature and purpose and character of the Spirit, not the mechanics of his working. All sorts of problems can be avoided if we simply pay attention to what biblical revelation actually tells us and resist using what we discover in ways that disregard Jesus’ own teaching on the limits of our knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s wind-like working.

Sometimes, people think the Holy Spirit gets less attention than deserved—the short end of the stick, as we say, or short shrift. The complaint that the Spirit is under-represented can be heard both at the levels of theological discussion as well as at the daily and practical level of church life. That’s a perfectly good concern to raise. We should be aware and take to heart all we are told regarding the Spirit. Neglecting any part of biblical witness is not a good idea. Faith seeks whatever understanding of the Spirit we are given, as in any other part of the Christian faith. But we can ask the counter question as well: Is it true that in practice and preaching we don’t properly emphasize the Holy Spirit? If so, in what ways do we fail to give the Spirit sufficient attention? And, what measure or criteria can we use to evaluate whether or not we have under- (or over-) emphasized the Holy Spirit?

Whether or not we give full attention is best gauged by the norm of biblical teaching. We can look to Scripture to weigh its own emphasis on the Spirit relative to other matters. We can also consider the full range of insights it presents us. Then we can compare our own emphasis and range of teaching to the pattern and proportion found there. While we will not be able to conclude with something like a numerical measurement, I think there will be many indicators in biblical teaching that can greatly assist us in our process of discernment. We can also borrow understanding on this matter from teachers of the church down through the ages, including our present time, as it seems in alignment with biblical revelation considered as a whole.

If there is some kind of deficit, then we’ll also need to explore how best to correct that lack. We’ll need to discern this issue as well, because there are various ways to correct for it. But some are not as useful or faithful as others. And some purported correctives promoted in recent times have seemed not only speculative but harmful to the health of the Body of Christ. What the Bible teaches can help us discern how best to make any kind of corrective action called for.

What are the basics of revelation about the Holy Spirit?

Recall that any theology built on biblical revelation must seek first and foremost to answer the question of “who” the God of the Bible is, for that is its central concern and controlling topic of the whole Bible. Biblical revelation is not geared nearly as much to answer the questions of how or why, where or when. So our understanding must also begin by seeking to know first who the Holy Spirit is.

Let’s begin with a review of the most basic truths we have been given about the Holy Spirit. Most fundamentally we are told about the Spirit’s relationship with the Father and the Son. Those relationships identify who the Spirit of God is. Who is the Spirit? The Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. The Spirit is one with the Father and one with the Son. Jesus is conceived by the Spirit, he has the Spirit for us and he ministers in and by the Spirit even in his atoning work on the cross. Jesus and the Father send the Spirit to us. The Spirit takes us to the Father through the Son. By the Spirit we are united to Christ so that we share in his life, life in fellowship and communion with the Father. And we share, by the Spirit, in Jesus’ ongoing ministry in the church and in the world.

Notice that what Jesus teaches Nicodemus (and us) fits the overall pattern of revelation about the Spirit throughout Scripture. Nicodemus wanted to know how one can be “born again” (or it could be translated, “born from above”). But Jesus’ response indicates that such “how” questions can’t really be answered in connection with the Spirit! Nicodemus is not told how the Spirit blows to bring us new life. Rather, Jesus’ answer to his “how” question identifies the “Who” behind the “how.” But Jesus does describe in a comprehensive way the effect of the working of the Spirit, namely, bringing us a new kind of life that comes from God. The Gospel of John goes on to shed even more light on the relationship of the Spirit to Jesus and to the Father, which includes the inter-relationship of their missions and ministries. These relationships are especially prominent in chapters 13-17. The central concern throughout this Gospel remains their conjoint relationships. They are inseparable, always being together and always working together.

One in being—united in act

Borrowing now from the more developed doctrine of the Trinity, we can say in summary that the three Divine Persons of the Trinity are “one in being.” This technical phrase helps us to remember there are not three Gods, but only one. So, the Spirit is not a separate God that has his own independent mind, his own action, his own plan, and his own purpose. The Spirit is joined in one being and therefore joined in one mind, action, plan and purpose with the Father and the Son. Even the name, “Holy Spirit,” indicates to us the unity of the Spirit with Father and Son, since only God has the name “Holy.”

The point here is not to let our minds think about the Holy Spirit as an independent operator. That’s one of the biggest mistakes that we can make. Always remember, whatever the Spirit does, wherever the Spirit is at work, that Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, because they are one in being. They do not act separately, apart from one another. They act out of one shared mind, heart and purpose in unity with each other. St. Augustine famously summarized this in the fourth century: “All the works of God are inseparable.”

A number of special phrases have been used down through the ages to convey the oneness or unity of the Persons besides saying that they are “one in being.” They are said to “co-exist.” They “co-inhere” in one another. They “in-exist” one another or they “mutually in-dwell” one another, they “co-envelop” one another or they “mutually interpenetrate” each other. Their oneness of being has been expressed by saying that the whole God is present in each of the Divine Persons. The whole God is present in the Father. The whole God is present in the Son. The whole God is present in the Spirit. That’s all to say: they’re one in being even though they’re distinguishable, we say, in person. An early creed sums it up this way: the Triune God is a Unity in Trinity and a Trinity in Unity.

Sharing all divine attributes

This means that the Holy Spirit is fully and completely divine and has from all eternity all the attributes that the Father and the Son have. The Spirit is not subordinate or less than the others. All that you can say of the Father, such as being omniscient, holy, omnipotent, eternal, and even being a Creator, can all be said of the Spirit (and can all be said of the Son). Dividing up among the Persons the attributes of God and the actions of God towards creation is ruled out because they are one in being.

That’s a hard rule for us to follow because we have developed poor habits of thinking and speaking in the church and likely were never taught otherwise. We also like to divide things up and align certain attributes or actions with the Father and others with the Son or the Holy Spirit. A typical way we do this is by saying the Father creates, the Son redeems and the Spirit perfects or sanctifies. We might think the Father is just and holy in comparison to the Son, who is merciful and gracious. But taking such a division of labor in a strict way would be an inaccurate, even misleading way to speak of God. The distinct Persons of the Trinity do not have separate jobs or wear different hats or play different roles that they accomplish by themselves. God acts as the one being that God is. His being does not fragment in mind, will, purpose or in action.

So, to repeat, everything you can say about the eternal nature and character of the Father, you can say about the Son and  you can say about the Holy Spirit. They are each all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, good, merciful, righteous and holy. They are all to be worshiped together because they’re one in being. So we can say of our worship—we worship the Father through the Son and in the Spirit. Or, we pray to the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. And we proclaim that the Father has redeemed us through the Son and in the Spirit. The whole God is our Savior!

The unity of the being (and therefore of the action, character and attributes of God) is one of the most fundamental things to hold on to and to watch out for when we go on to say other things about the Spirit. We want to avoid talking as if the Divine Persons are separate, wear different hats, have divergent purposes or as if they’re operating independently of one another. Simply remembering they’re one in being will prevent a lot of problems down the theological road.

Next time we’ll look at some of the distinctions in the united acts of the Father, Son and Spirit.

Death of John Connors

John ConnorsWe were saddened to learn that GCI elder John Connors died of pancreatic cancel on September 10th. John served as an assistant pastor in the Boston, Massachusetts congregation.

John is survived by his wife Robin and their children Jennifer, Jackie and John.

Cards may be sent to:

Robin Connors
232 Pearl Street
Newton, MA 02458-1345

Elaine Vernon

Prayer is requested for Deb Paz’s aunt, Elaine Vernon. She is beginning another battle with cancer, this time in her brain. Please pray for healing, strength and peace. Elaine will be receiving a treatment on September 23, which involves pinpointing and eradicating the cancer.

Death of Bernie Schnippert

Bernie and Arlene
Bernie and Arlene

We were saddened to learn of the death of Bernie Schnippert on September 10. Please pray for his wife Arlene and their daughters Crystal and Coral and the rest of the family during this difficult time.

In a brief note to close friends Arlene wrote “I wanted to let you all know that Bern passed away about 7:00 pm this evening. He was asleep and it was very peaceful. His months and years of suffering are now over and he can be at peace.” A small private memorial service is being planned.

Due to ongoing health struggles, Bernie retired from GCI employment on June 27. He had served for many years as GCI’s legal counsel. To read about his distinguished career in an earlier Weekly Update article, click here.

Bernie and his service to GCI will long be remembered and missed.

Cards of encouragement to the family may be sent to:

Arlene Schnippert
64651 Jan Dr.
Bend, OR 97701

Death of Joan Backhus

Backhus_Gerald_Joan
Jerry and Joan

We were saddened to learn that Joan Backhus, wife of GCI pastor Gerald (Jerry) Backhus, died on September 10 at 10:00 PM. The couple would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on September 13.

Please pray for Jerry, their couple’s children Craig and Kym, their extended family, and for their church family at Living Hope Family Fellowship in Hillsdale, New Jersey.

Cards may be sent to:

Gerald P Backhus
501 Russell Ave
Wyckoff, NJ 07481-1708

Steve Smith

Steve and Karon
Karon and Steve

Steve Smith, pastor of GCI’s congregations in Modesto, Santa Rosa and Fairfield, California, grew up in northern Indiana. “It has to be God that brought me to where I am today because it is beyond my expectations. My early life was one of poverty, cold winters, living in a two-room shack, being hungry and embarrassed. The upside is that God was kind to me and wired me as a happy kid overall. Sports, track, cross-country, football, basketball and baseball were a big part of my life opening up many opportunities.”

Steve excelled in baseball. “My baseball career was a highlight for me. Every year I was in Little League I won the batting championship. In seven years playing baseball I never struck out until I tried out for the Pittsburgh Pirates (I struck out much more often in life than in baseball!) My lowest batting average was .556 in the travel league division.”

Steve’s family became interested in the Radio Church of God in late 1957 and began attending in Chicago in 1958. “My interest was generated by the fact that going to church was a parental decision—no questions asked.”

Steve then applied to attend Ambassador College, which he said “was the turning point in my life.” However, his memories of that time are filled with mixed emotions. “My dad died the same day I was accepted to college. Twenty days later I was 2,400 miles from home living in a mansion for a dormitory and off on an incredible journey that I have never regretted.”

Moving from Indiana to Bricket Wood, England was quite a change for Steve, but that was only the first of many more changes. “After graduating in 1968, I entered the ministry. My first assignment was in Atlanta, Georgia—I was told where I was going and what I would be doing and I didn’t disagree.” This ties right in with Steve’s passion, which is “to live in the will of God.”

Steve and Karon have been married for 21 years. “We have five children between us and ten grandchildren. Most of them live in California within easy driving distance, which we consider a great blessing. We love being grandparents.”

Karon is Steve’s “incredibly loving support and partner in life and ministry. Karon has been our youth minister and is gifted with hospitality.”

Steve says what he likes most about being a pastor is “working with people and seeing God’s love for them and how he works in their lives.” Speaking about GCI, Steve said, “What I enjoy most about GCI is our freedom in Christ.”

His most memorable moments as a pastor were “performing my children’s baptisms and weddings.”

Steve is still learning. He has earned a master’s degree in psychology. “I use that as a therapist for addiction and mental health outreach counseling. I devote one day a week to this outreach program. I’m presently in the final stage of getting my California license as a marriage and family therapist.”

Steve is also an avid gardener and loves to be outdoors. His favorite times with God are “in the mornings while on prayer walks.”