GCI Update

Magnificent joy!

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachRecently, three couples who are our dear friends shared that they are expecting grandchildren. For two couples, it’s their first grandchild and they gave me a delightful rundown of their plans to be present at the birth. For the third couple, it’s their second grandchild and they too plan to be present for the wonderful event.

Tammy and I still remember the glorious emotions we experienced awaiting the arrival of both of our children. We still talk about it as if it were yesterday. I imagine most of you share similar memories and some of you are anticipating the wondrous time of new life in the weeks or months ahead. So it’s fairly easy for most of us to identify with the joy felt by two pregnant women in Luke’s account known as The Visitation.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!… As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy (Luke 1:39-42, 44).

The Magnificat by James Tissot. Wikimedia Commons.
The Magnificat by James Tissot. Wikimedia Commons.

In response, Mary offered a song known as The Magnificat.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever” (Luke 1:46-55, RSV).

The phrase “my soul magnifies the Lord” can mean to praise, glorify, celebrate, adore, enlarge, exalt or extol. The words convey an experience of being enlarged, lifted up and out of one’s self by power from another realm. This is a quality of joy and hope that transcends human emotion—it comes only from God.

Mary’s song, which weaves together the language of several of the Psalms, is patterned closely on the song of Hannah, who could not bear children until the Lord visited her (1 Samuel 2:1–10). While Mary’s song is focused on humility and calmness, Hannah’s song focuses on her sense of indignation, followed by personal triumph. An unusual feature of both songs is that God is portrayed in terms of what he has done as well as what he will yet do. This is a literary technique where the past tense is used to express hope for the future. Both songs remind us that what God has done in the past is what God will do in the future. As we continue to celebrate Advent, we celebrate this fact—noting God’s involvement in our past and relying on his involvement in our future. We rejoice in knowing that all God’s acts are the fruit of his consistent character—his faithfulness demonstrated in Jesus Christ.

Another noteworthy feature in Mary’s and Hannah’s songs is that God’s justice and mercy are presented in terms of the reversal of fortunes for the proud and the humble, the mighty and the lowly, the rich and the poor. The God of our past and future will make everything right, straighten everything that is crooked and heal all that is broken. We read of this in Isaiah 40:1-5, a passage often sung during Advent in performances of Handel’s sacred oratorio, Messiah.

The biblical accounts of Hannah and Mary (with Elizabeth) are chock-full of symbolism and prototypes from the past. Both Hannah and Elizabeth were barren until, in their later years, God intervened miraculously as he had for Sarah, Abraham’s wife. In the Old Testament, barrenness was much worse than an inability to bear children—it was a symbol of the end of human potential, the choking off of life. It pointed to the impotence of the human race in the face of sin and death. It’s no wonder that God would use a barren woman, Elizabeth, to point to his Son Jesus, who announced and accomplished the astounding reversal that Isaiah and other prophets proclaimed.

At Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist, said “the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” Both Elizabeth and Mary experienced great joy in receiving and proclaiming God’s sure promise concerning the future. They knew that God’s promises always come with the power to see them fulfilled. The overlapping pregnancies of these women were beautiful signs that what was promised was about to happen. In God’s economy, it already had! Mary’s song—The Magnificat—celebrates the divine events as though they already had occurred. She knew that God is as good as his Word!

Mary and Elizabeth symbolically represent the poor and oppressed, those of “low estate,” who can be filled with joy knowing their hope is in God who is faithful to fulfill what he has promised. The two miraculous pregnancies are living examples of what Jesus later proclaimed: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). In his almighty love, God entered this world in human flesh. All who positively, willingly respond to that love by embracing their new lives in Christ, will experience magnificent joy for all eternity.

In joy,
Joseph Tkach

PS: It was a treat for me to join Pastor Frank and Leslie Howard in Newark, New Jersey to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the 24/7 Community Church. This is the first church plant after our doctrinal transformation. They began with 14 members and now have 125. Here are four pictures of the event, bearing in mind that I make no claim to being a photographer.

NJ group

NJ montage

Family first: reaching in and reaching out

Word of God Christian Fellowship, GCI’s church in Canfield, Ohio, recently hosted three non-GCI churches in a combined potluck (pictured below). The event focused on fellowship among churches and outreach to the surrounding community. Total attendance was about 250 people.

Canfield group

With leadership from their pastors (pictured below—GCI pastor John Dobritch and his wife Mary are at left) the four churches are partnered in a group called “Family First.” The group focuses on helping strengthen Canfield area families in Christ.

Canfield meeting pastors

Philippine typhoon

This update is from GCI-Philippines director Eugene Guzon.

typhoon-rebuildLast weekend, typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) passed through the Eastern Visayas and Bicol region of the Philippines. The typhoon followed about the same path as typhoon Haiyan last year and affected about a third of the Philippine population. Thankfully, our prayers were answered and initial wind speeds of 150 miles/hour quickly diminished. People had been evacuated to higher ground early on, and military personnel were widely deployed to prevent looting.

Reports from GCI pastors in the affected areas indicate that damage to life and property was only slight, though there was some damage to crops and homes. The pastors reported that our members are safe, though are tired as they clean their homes. Electrical power is still out in some areas, so GCI is providing generators to offer free phone charging services to the community.

We appreciate your prayers. We are thankful to God that he has spared so many of our countrymen from severe damage and loss of life. Nevertheless, we know that even so, many have experienced inconveniences and may have been traumatized because of their experiences last year. God is good, and we count on the fact that he is always with us even during these times.

Life Club meetings

Geoff Sole provided the following updates on Life Club meetings held recently in various locations around the world.

Last spring, GCI’s London congregation held a trip for their young people to view a replica of Noah’s ark in the Netherlands (see picture below). It houses full-scale plastic animals, some small live animals and birds, two cinemas and a restaurant. As a result of the trip, the congregation’s Life Club held a meeting with a Noah’s ark theme.


graduatesThe Great Baddow, England, congregation held two Life Club meetings. At the first one, speeches were given on overcoming difficult circumstances, honoring parents, making a helpful difference in the lives of young people and perils and pitfalls of the first year of marriage. Graduation certificates were awarded to Maaike Mantel, Ricky Fowler and Annabelle Woolford (pictured at right). In the second meeting, speeches were given on the Church as “safety net,” health risks in eating genetically modified crops and cake-making.

At a Life Club (pictured below) hosted by one of GCI’s Cape Town South Africa congregations, the winning speech was given on career perspectives. The club also helped organize a youth service in the host church, a walking trip up Lions Head mountain, and a social day visiting area beaches.

SA club

table topicsGCI in South India held two Life Club meetings during their annual worship festival. At the first one, Patricia D’Costa (pictured at left), daughter of GCI pastor Joseph D’Costa, presented table topics. This was followed by four speeches, then a talk from pastor D’Costa on overcoming procrastination. Mission developer Rod Matthews then gave the overall evaluation, mentioning how club had helped him and encouraging others to participate.

ColinColin Lauchlan (pictured at right), pastor of two GCI churches in Canada, runs a weekly Life Club in a Teen Challenge drug rehabilitation center in London, Ontario. Colin writes:

We usually average around 6-8 attendees on any one evening. I have a few people in the Club who really see the benefit and are very enthusiastic about it. I rely on them to recruit new members as they join the program. Because of the frequency of the meetings and the few attendees, some members have now given several speeches and it’s great to see their progress. We have just started a new format for our meetings so that members can have more time to prepare. We now have a regular Club one week and a lecture the following week. What I am doing on the lecture evening is playing a recording of a speech to the Club, then discussing with them techniques the speaker has employed in organizing and delivering his speech. Last week we discussed Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. It is fascinating to see how even the “great” speeches of our time employ the simple principles we teach in Life Club. Next time we will be looking at Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.


The Owerri, Nigeria congregation recently held a Life Club with 14 adults attending (see picture above). Chairperson Samuel Obih reminded members of the benefits of Club, including “taming the tongue” (from the book of James). Speeches were given on building a career and alternative ways of learning.

PaigntonIn England, a Life Club meeting was held during the annual fall festival in Paignton. The chairperson was Gemma Brown and the topics leader was James Esom (pictured at left). Speeches addressed planting seeds spiritually, overcoming a poor childhood, how astronomers know if planets exist, and gratitude. Meeting director Roger Lippross said that “speech enhances life and we should not miss opportunities to speak in Club.” He also mentioned the importance of having vision and of persevering by keeping one’s goals clearly in mind.

Helping the poor

Following (with the author’s permission) is text excerpted from a post at The Walking Green blog. Given that many of our congregations seek to assist the poor, this post provides some helpful guidance. My wife Vicki met the author, Liz McEwen, through a local ministry that serves pastors’ wives. She and her husband are raising their children in an economically depressed neighborhood in Cincinnati. So she writes on this topic with in-depth, first-hand knowledge. The original post can be read online at https://ejmcewan.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/how-your-church-can-strengthen-the-hand-of-the-poor/.

– GCI pastor George Hart (Cincinnati, Ohio)

 How Your Church Can “Strengthen The Hand” of the Poor

by Liz McEwen

If any of my Christian friends want to know what their churches can do to address the issue of poverty right now, I have a few suggestions.

Address poverty at its root. Poverty is not as simple as a lack of money or consistent employment. It is not always (or not only) a result of personal error. It is a complex cultural paradigm and often generations in the making. Solving the problem of poverty means tackling it at its root, in the systematic injustices and personal failures that perpetuate it. If you really want to pull someone out of a cycle of poverty, you have to get strategic and address a few key issues. Find an issue that you can (or your church can) personally address and commit to it. You may not be able to address it all, but you can certainly do something.

Educate. Without a proper education (at least through high school), the opportunities available to young men and women are limited. Something as simple as after-school tutoring could be a place to start, but perhaps you are capable of more. Other ideas: Start a community school or a co-op; become a teacher at a struggling school system; sit on the school board; become a high school academic counselor; create a college scholarship program.

Promote Strong Family Systems. There is a strong relationship between the stability of a family structure and poverty. In 2013, of the 11% of the American population living in poverty, 31% of them were households with a single mother. According to the statistics that same year, a married couple is much more likely to avoid poverty in the first place. Seeing as we are now entering an era in which almost half of the babies born are born into unmarried households, this might be an issue that the Church can address. Not by shaming unwed mothers. Not by ousting unmarried families. Not by coercing marriage. But by strengthening existing couples and encouraging healthy relationships, teaching basic conflict management skills, marital counseling, and by encouraging young women to abstain from sex (crazy, I know) to avoid becoming another “poor, unwed mother” statistic. For women (and men) currently parenting alone, churches can provide training in parenting skills and support in the way of daycare and counseling. For children who have already become victims of broken families, foster and short-term respite care, as well as adoption (open or closed, through public or private agencies) are great opportunities.

Improve the Quality of Life and Housing Opportunities. Have you considered the environmental and lifestyle issues that make it difficult for people to move out of a cycle of poverty? The availability of healthy food, access to public transportation options, clean, safe, and well-maintained neighborhoods—they all matter. What if your church started a housing ministry that rented or sold decent homes to low-income families without the mess of government subsidies? Or started a community housing co-op that enabled lower-income members to build equity in shared property? What if you started a community garden that provided fresh produce to local families in need or organized a block watch to promote community-led policing? You can plant trees for increased safety and air quality; you could provide free medical care or health education.

Teach Job Skills and Provide Employment. What would you do if you wanted to find a job that would provide for your family, but had a minimum education, few employable skills, or possibly even a felony on your record that (in an employer’s eyes) disqualified you from hundreds of available jobs? You or your church can help teach important skills that help secure employment for the otherwise unemployable: computer and technical skills; handyman, carpentry, or maintenance skills; cooking or cleaning. You could also take it one step further and start a business that employs those who have a difficult time finding employment or hire an under-employed person in your community to do odd jobs (at your church or your home) for extra cash to help make ends meet.

Give Financial Guidance. There are financial skills that some wealthier people take for granted—things they learned from their parents or peers about how to manage their money, how to save money and stay out of debt, or how to make smart investments. Don’t take for granted that other people know these things. Things as simple as how to open a bank account, balance a check book, or pay a bill online might be a mystery to some folks. Without basic financial knowledge and wisdom about managing wealth, a sudden increase in income that comes with new employment can destroy a family’s financial future. Your church can provide something as simple as free financial counseling or as complex as interest-free personal or business loans.

Fight Institutional Injustice. Sure, plenty of people living in poverty are victims of their own bad decisions. But, many are not. Regardless of how they got into the mess they are in, there are mountains upon mountains of institutional injustices that can make it feel impossible for them to climb out. Christians should be in the business of pleading the case of victims. Either find a way to advocate for those who are in danger of being further victimized and left with no resources and no support, or use your skills and influence to work within the system to bring justice on an institutional level. The judicial system, banking, legislation, urban planning and community development, immigration—take your pick. Globally, nationally, or locally.

Soothe the symptoms of poverty. Emergency assistance will not stop the cycles of poverty, but it can soothe the symptoms. Christians should not be afraid to meet a need where an obvious need exists. Educate yourself about what resources exist in your community, but also consider how you can step in with a more personal touch. A lot of us are afraid of being taken advantage of or being made fools, but churches should be places of hospitality and generosity. You can be wise about the help you offer while still being generous and merciful. Keep healthy boundaries, but keep your doors open—physically, spiritually and emotionally. Pray that God refines your discernment to know where the real needs are.

You may have noticed that I didn’t list “Provide Spiritual Guidance” on the list above. The reason is that I take for granted that Christians understand that they have a responsibility to preach the gospel to all people whether poor or wealthy. Spiritual poverty knows no economic boundaries, so providing spiritual guidance should be a given, at all times, to all people. “Strengthening the hand of the poor,” however, is a particular command given to the church in relationship to a particular group of people and can be discussed with spiritual realities presupposed.

Susan McNutt

Susan McNutt is the director of Base Camp NW, one of Generations Ministries’ U.S. youth camps. Susan and her husband Lee Combs, Jr., were recently in a car accident. Susan apparently suffered a broken vertebra and sternum. Thankfully, there is no paralysis. Doctors have decided to put Susan in an upper body/neck cast. Though surgery is not now anticipated, blood clots are a major concern. Lee, who has bruising from the airbag and seat belt, was released from the hospital. Please keep Susan and Lee in your prayers.

Cards may be sent to:

Susan McNutt & Lee Combs, Jr.
1827 NW Highland Dr.
Corvallis, OR 97330-2023

Bob Persky

BobPlease pray for Bob Persky, who recently retired as senior pastor of GCI’s congregation in Mesquite, Texas (Dallas metro area).

Bob will be having triple by-pass heart surgery with replacement of his aortic heart valve. The surgery is scheduled for December 17 at 7:30 a.m. at the Plaza Medical Center in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Please also pray for Bob’s wife Kay, who had open-heart surgery several weeks ago and continues to recover.

Cards may be sent to:

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