GCI Update

J.R.R. Tolkien: hints of the Incarnation

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

I became a fan of English author, philologist and poet, J.R.R. Tolkien after reading The Hobbit and its sequel, the epic three-volume novel, The Lord of the Rings. Among other literary achievements, Tolkien in his fantasy books constructed the grammar and vocabulary of at least 15 languages and dialects, the most-developed being the one spoken by his Elves. Though the extent of his literary achievements is amazing, what impresses me most is what lies behind those achievements—Tolkien’s appreciation and love for the goodness of God.

J.R.R. Tolkien (source)

Though he avoided direct references to Christian doctrine in his books, Tolkien pointed people in that direction by connecting fantasy to the realities of the human condition in a fallen world. Who among us hasn’t had to deal with a Troll or two? Who hasn’t found a special place of peace and tranquility? Not only does Tolkien deal with these human realities (along with bravery, sacrifice, hospitality, honor, beauty and love)—he also indirectly points his readers to transcendent realities. For example, in The Two Towers (the second volume in The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Tolkien utilizes the imagery of light breaking into darkness—imagery that mirrors the Light of the World coming into a dark, sin-sick world via the Incarnation.

In one of his letters, Tolkien wrote that, “the incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write” (Letter 237). Thus, it is no surprise that Tolkien, the great story teller, was enamored with the Incarnation, for it is the greatest story ever told! For the substance and reality of that story, we rely not on Tolkien, but on the writers of the New Testament Gospels like the apostle John, who began his Gospel with these evocative words:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, NRSV)

Though Tolkien’s fantasy novels do not tell the complete Christian story, they are full of themes he hoped would prepare people to hear the Christian gospel. What I especially appreciate is the way The Lord of the Rings trilogy points out the reality of good and evil, the power and temptation of sin, and the fact that everyone needs redemption. If you read the trilogy or watch the movies based on it, you’ll encounter dark and heavy moments where good people suffer, and some give in to the darkness of evil. Yet you’ll also find that no matter how far a character might fall, Tolkien shows there is always hope—always opportunity for redemption.

Scene from the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (source)

Another thing I like about Tolkien’s stories is the way they refute the dualistic idea of the separation of body and spirit (soul). In pointing to the dynamic unity of body and spirit, Tolkien undermines philosophies (such as naturalism and Gnosticism) that separate body and spirit. In doing so, he indirectly opens a door for his readers to consider that the Incarnation (the union of the uncreated Son of God with created human nature) might be possible. The heroes of his stories represent real people who live as “embodied souls,” and “ensouled bodies” (as Karl Barth put it). Tolkien’s characters appreciate good ale, a simple meal and enduring fellowship, all the while taking seriously the universal obligations of the good, and the real dangers of the evil.

Some people worry that fantasy novels like Tolkien’s risk perverting good theology. But that would be true only if we were to look to such books as sources of theology. The fact of the matter is that they are not. Tolkien never intended his trilogy to be more than a prequel to the biblical gospel. His goal was to point out the questions, problems and challenges in life, not to provide answers that come only through biblical revelation.

Tolkien cleverly directs a secular world away from the naturalism and nihilism that is so prevalent in our world, towards the biblical world of moral meaning and personal relationship with the living God of intervening grace. His overarching message is that no matter what adversity we face in this world with its darkness, a real and transcendent goodness (light) is still present and prevailing. No matter how far astray we might have gone from that light, there is hope of restoration. The overall conclusion of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy is that this hope exists no matter what we face. The apostle Paul draws a similar conclusion in his letter to the churches in Rome:

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, NRSV)

Tolkien understood a powerful truth, which he pointed to in his writings: The Incarnation is the best story that can be told. We celebrate that story in a special way during the Advent-Christmas season.

I love to tell the story,
Joseph Tkach

Philippine gatherings

Here are links to updates on recent gatherings hosted by GCI in the Philippines:

  1. Leadership camp
  2. Ministry equipping retreat
  3. Youth friendship day
  4. ACCM classes
Leadership camp









Florida retreat

Fifteen people gathered recently at the St. Stephens Retreat Center in Titusville, FL, for the 7th annual “Experiencing the Trinity Retreat” sponsored by the Odyssey in Christ Ministry. For four days, participants explored their relationship with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They practiced various spiritual disciplines designed to open space to hear from God personally. The retreat was structured for the participants to move back and forth from solitude to community to experience the benefits of being with God both alone and in community.

Here are comments from retreat participants:

  • It was like being with family—I’m returning home renewed and refreshed.
  • I learned how to better listen to God in silence and solitude. I also learned how deeply God loves me.
  • I learned to be intentionally making space for Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • Community—God speaks through others.
  • It’s just what the doctor ordered—a chance to refocus on what’s important in life and get a renewed sense of direction spiritually and otherwise.

Attracting and keeping volunteers

A post on ChurchLeaders.com asks, How do we attract, then keep, the volunteers who are so important to a congregation’s operation? The post answers with this observation: People gravitate to where they are valued most. To read the post, click here.

Death of retired pastor’s wife

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of Jane Parsons, wife of Sonny Parsons, who for many years pastored the GCI congregation in Big Sandy, TX (click here for a profile of the couple published in 2014 and here for a story about Jane published earlier this year). Here is an announcement concerning Jane’s death from Jerome Ellard, who now pastors the Big Sandy church:

Sonny and Jane

Jane Parsons, wife of retired GCI pastor Sonny Parsons, died on Monday afternoon, December 11, 2017, after a lengthy decline in health. Sonny and Jane were lovebirds, married for 53 years.

A service celebrating Jane’s life will be held on Thursday, December 14, at First Christian Church in Big Sandy, followed by a meal at New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, the GCI congregation in Big Sandy.

Cards may be sent to:

Sonny Parsons
110 W. Groves St.
Big Sandy, TX 75755

SoCal wildfires

At the time this issue of GCI Weekly Update was published, huge wildfires continue burning in Southern California, where GCI has multiple congregations. Here are reports from two area pastors: Wayne Mitchell and Bermie Dizon. Your prayers are requested.

From Wayne Mitchell

We are thankful for the Lord’s presence with us and protection through the fires ravaging our area over the last week. All our members in the Ventura congregation were affected in some way by the Thomas Fire (by fire, smoke, air quality or inability to navigate roadways).

Bob and Joyce Muller’s home in Ojai was in the path of the fire on Tuesday and they were forced to evacuate. When they returned home Thursday, their neighbor’s home had burned to the ground, but theirs was spared. They are in their home now, keeping a watchful eye on the capricious path of the fire.

Julie Dexter, Bob’s sister who lives in Ojai and works in Ventura, watched as the fire burned across the street from the office where she works. She emailed the picture at right of the street she lives on. So far, her home is still standing.

About four church families had to evacuate from the Creek Fire that started around the Sylmar area. To my knowledge they have all returned home safely. The Rye Fire, in the Santa Clarita area, came within about six miles of a member’s home there, but no closer. From our apartment at the north edge of Simi Valley we can see smoke billowing above the hills to the west and northwest, as the Thomas fire continues to burn unabated, feuled by the Santa Ana winds. The relative humidity, as low as 6% in this area, is a threatening factor.

Source: NPR

In the midst of the fires’ devastation, one of our members forwarded the passage of scripture below. What a beautiful reminder of the unfailing love of the Lord we serve.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you make the Most High your dwelling– even the LORD, who is my refuge–then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. 16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91)

Please join with us in praying that the winds will die down and that we will finally get some cool moist air settling into our beautiful little corner of the world.

From Bermie Dizon

Though I have not heard of any members whose homes have burned down due to the ongoing fires, I did hear of the scary experiences many had driving with the fires so close to the freeway. Last Thursday, learning of the fire in the Sylmar area [northwest of Pasadena], I was concerned because Steven Brooks, associate pastor of our GCI Los Angeles congregation, lives in that area. I called Steve’s wife Gloria (Steve was out of town) and learned that because the fire was moving close to their home, the family had been ordered to evacuate. Gloria and her daughter left their home and stayed at her sister’s place in Granada Hills, 10 miles away. She wanted to return home to get some valuables, but the roads were blocked. Thankfully, the wind pushed the fire in the opposite direction and their house was spared. Gloria told us at church that she was comforted by several members who called her to ask what they could do to help.

Map showing SoCal wildfires as of December 6 (source: CBS Los Angeles)

Thanking donors

As noted in a recent post on the new GCI Facebook page, our churches would not exist without the prayerful and financial support of our members. The end of the year is a perfect time for pastors to thank them by sending out notes of thanks, encouragement and congregational vision. To help you do that, we’ve designed a GCI postcard (below). To use it, click on the picture, print it on cardstock paper, cut out each of the cards, hand write your message on the back (blank) sides, then send them out.

Recent ordinations

Here are reports on recent elder ordinations conducted in Canada and Grenada.

Clay and Gillian Houghton

L to R: Alan Redmond,
Gillian and Clay Houghton, Bill Hall

GCI-Canada Western District Superintendent Bill Hall joined with Winnipeg Lead Pastor Alan Redmond and elders Dave Adolfson, Charles Norris, Nestor Guspodarchuk and Maurice Yurkiw in ordaining Clay and Gillian Houghton as elders for the congregation. Clay and Gillian have been active with GCI-Canada’s Silver Meadows summer camp, local young adults ministry, small group Bible studies, the congregation’s Table of Grace food bank and the recently approved Canadian charity for education in Sierra Leone based in the Winnipeg congregation.

Elisha St. Louis

L to R: Emerson McIntyre,
Paula and Elisha St. Louis, Charles Fleming

Elisha St. Louis of GCI’s congregation on the Caribbean Island of Grenada was recently ordained an elder by Caribbean Mission Developer Charles Fleming and the congregation’s lead pastor Emerson McIntyre.

Immediately following the ordination, Elisha was commissioned to serve as the congregation’s associate pastor. According to Charles, “Elisha is not only a great help to Emerson, but has the gifting needed to succeed Emerson someday.”