Johnstons’ daughter

Ted and Donna Johnston send their thanks for the prayers, cards and other expressions of support concerning their daughter Traci (Johnston) Calvert, who recently was diagnosed with cancer (click here for the original prayer request).

Traci is doing well and returns home this week after undergoing the first round of chemotherapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. Subsequent rounds will be administered in Mobile, AL. While in Houston, Traci was cared for by her aunt Jan, Ted’s sister (shown below with Traci), while Ted and Donna remained in Alabama to help care for Traci’s two children and her husband Troy.

Your continued prayers for Traci are needed and much appreciated. Please pray that the cancer (which was successfully removed in surgery) will not return, and that Traci will be blessed with long life in good health.

God has blessed us!

“From the President” this time is written by Joseph Tkach, Chairman of the Grace Communion International Board of Directors.


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach

I write this letter mindful that it’s likely my last contribution to Update as a GCI employee (I retire in January). As noted in an earlier issue, I passed the GCI president baton to Dr. Greg Williams in October.

As I reflect on my years as President of our denomination, many blessings from God stand out in my memory. One has to do with our name—Grace Communion International. I think it beautifully describes our transformation as a fellowship. By the grace of God, we have become an international, grace-based denomination that shares in the communion of the Father, Son and Spirit. I have never doubted that our Triune God led us into and through the miraculous transformation that got us to this place of great blessing. My dear GCI brothers and sisters, thank you for your faithfulness in that journey. Your lives are living evidence of our transformation.

Another blessing that comes to mind is one that many of our long-time members will relate to. Over the years, we often prayed in our church services that God would reveal to us more of his truth. Well, God answered that prayer—and in dramatic fashion! He opened the eyes of our hearts and minds to understand the great depth of his love for humanity, and showed us how he is always with us and for us and, by grace, has our eternal future safe and secure.

Many of you have told me that, over the years, you heard no sermons in our fellowship on the topic of grace. I praise God that, beginning in the mid-1990s, we began to overcome that deficit. Sadly, some reacted negatively to our new emphasis on God’s grace, asking questions like, “What is all this Jesus stuff?” Our answer then (as now) was this: “We preach the good news about the one who created us, who came for us, who died for us and who saved us!”

(Used with permission from Transforming Center)

During this Advent season, I’m focused on the wonder and glory of Jesus’ comings for our salvation: through his incarnation and birth, now by the Spirit, and in his yet-future return. It’s amazing that some who expectantly look for Jesus’ return in glory (often called the “second coming”) refuse to celebrate his first coming, his birth. Apparently they don’t realize that there would be no second coming without the first. Have they not noticed that Luke devotes an entire chapter in his Gospel to Jesus’ birth, and that the Bible nowhere devotes a whole chapter to the timing of Jesus’ return?

Following the Bible’s emphasis on the key events in the life of Jesus, in GCI we celebrate or commemorate our Lord’s incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. Though we can’t celebrate his return in the same way (it has not yet happened), we do, during Advent, celebrate the promise of his return, knowing that Jesus always fulfills what he has promised.

As Scripture tells us, our ascended Lord Jesus Christ is now in heaven serving as our High Priest, awaiting his return in glory. As promised, he is preparing “a place” for us (John 14:1-4). That place is the gift of eternal life with God, a gift made possible by all that Jesus has and will yet accomplish. Concerning the revealing, through the Spirit, of the nature of that gift, the apostle Paul, quoting Isaiah, wrote this:

We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Cor. 2:7-10, ESV)

I thank God for revealing to us the mystery of our salvation in Jesus—a salvation secured through our Lord’s incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return. All of this is of grace—the grace of God given us in and through Jesus, by the Spirit.

Though I will soon retire from GCI employment, I will remain involved with our fellowship. I will continue serving on GCI boards in the US and UK, and on the Grace Communion Seminary board. I may also teach a course or two at GCS and do some preaching in my home congregation. My pastor Bermie Dizon has wondered aloud if I’d give monthly sermons. I joked with him that all this work doesn’t sound like retirement—it’s more like being retreaded for more miles! As we know, ministry is not a job—it’s a calling, a way of life. As long as God gives me strength, I’ll never stop ministering to others on our Lord’s behalf.

As I look back at the past several decades, in addition to wonderful memories related to GCI, I have many that are related to my family. Tammy and I have been blessed to see our two children grow up, graduate from college, find good jobs and become happily married. Our celebration of these milestones is heightened because we did not expect to reach them. As many of you know, our church formerly taught that there would be no time for such things—Jesus was returning soon, and we’d be taken to a “place of safety” in the Middle East prior to the second coming. Thankfully, God had other plans, though he does have a place of safety prepared for us all—it’s his eternal kingdom.

When I began serving as President of our denomination back in 1995, my focus was on pointing people to the supremacy of Jesus Christ. Even though I’m now retiring after over 23 years as GCI President, it is still my focus and will continue to be. By God’s grace, I will not stop pointing people to Jesus! He lives, and because he lives, we do too.

Advent and Christmas blessings from my family to yours,
– Joseph Tkach, Chairman, GCI Board of Directors


PS: With this issue we say goodbye to Ted Johnston, Update editor-publisher for the past ten years. Beginning with the next issue (January 9), the new editor-publisher will be Charlotte Rakestraw, member of our Media team. I’m grateful to all the men and women who have contributed so skillfully and faithfully to producing Update over the years, including Ted, Deb Paz, John Halford, Michael Morrison, Gary Deddo, Rick Shallenberger, Nancy Akers, Terry Akers, Janet Shay and many others. It’s been a labor of love.

Though Ted retires from GCI in January, he will continue teaching at Grace Communion Seminary and producing The Surprising Goda blog I highly recommend for its easily-digestible articles written from an incarnational Trinitarian perspective. Often quoting the Torrances and other Trinitarian theologians, the topics addressed on the blog include the Trinity, grace, our worship, final judgment, works, election, freedom, universalism and hell.

Experiencing the Trinity retreat

This report is from retreat participant Tom Fallon.


For three days (November 8-11, 2018) a group of God’s children experienced a joy-filled “Experiencing the Trinity” retreat hosted by Odyssey in Christ. Held in Titusville, FL, the retreat allowed us to enter sacred “kairos” time with our Triune God. We truly did experience the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit at this 8th annual spiritual renewal retreat. All who participated felt a tremendous fellowship in the Spirit.

One dear sister summarized her experience this way:

It was a truly amazing experience! Praise God for showing me that He does love me! Amen!”

Could there be any higher praise for a retreat experience? She came to know experientially—in the depths of her heart—that she is truly loved!

GCI Pastor Rannie Childress expressed his experience of the Trinity during the retreat with these words:

I was deeply moved spiritually. During the retreat, God (Father-Son-Spirit) revealed to me some life-changing revelations. I received the “message” that I am to prepare for the next season of my life (the life God has given me). I cannot recommend these retreats highly enough. Go—you will not regret it!

One theme of the retreat was that as we create space for God (by clearing our schedules and choosing to make a retreat) God comes rushing in! God indeed came rushing in and we witnessed healing in body, soul and spirit and, in the process, all experienced a special bond of love. This retreat was truly a foretaste of the wonderful world tomorrow, when all God’s children will dwell together in perfect unity.

In this fast-paced, dizzying world, the spiritual practice of retreat is so uplifting and rejuvenating. Odyssey in Christ retreats provide the perfect opportunity to plant the love of Christ in our souls and at the same time create lasting memories. One sister put it this way:

The Trinity has the answers to all my questions and longings. I need to take time to retreat—to meet with them and find answers and clarification and their embrace. Thank you! I needed this retreat more than I realized, and the Lord brought me here.

GCI Mexico conference

The following report is from Heber Ticas, Superintendent for Latin America and National Coordinator for Church Multiplication.


In mid-November, 123 GCI members from Mexico gathered for our annual national conference. We met at Hotel Villa Primavera on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico. The conference theme was Somos Communion De Gracia (We are GCI). Our goal was to reboot our ministry in Mexico, embracing a posture of unity, moving forward together as one family.

This year’s conference departed a bit from the equipping-training format of previous conferences. We provided a retreat-style gathering with ample time for fellowship, learning and worship.

Also this year, instead of holding a separate camp for our youth in Mexico, the conference included a track for the youth. Doing so created a family camp atmosphere. All the participants were overjoyed with the opportunity to grow together as one multi-generational body.

This year we were blessed to have GCI President Greg Williams and his wife Susan with us. Greg spoke about moving forward as a healthy church and Susan, along with my wife Xochilt Ticas and Selena Soto, addressed gatherings for women. In my address to the conference, I spoke about being a healthy body by embracing our true identity in Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit to heal our hearts. Pastor Natanael Cruz then addressed sessions for the youth.

(L to R): Susan Williams, Xochilt Ticas, Heber Ticas, Greg Williams, Selena Soto

As shown in the picture above, during the conference I was commissioned by Greg Williams as GCI’s Superintendent for Latin America. Greg gave me my charge in the presence of representatives from congregations I’ll be serving. Following my commissioning, I presented Pastor Luis Soto as the new National Coordinator for GCI Mexico.

Overall, it was an amazing weekend where the Lord united all those present in one mind, by one Spirit. Our Mexican churches are ready to move forward as one body toward the fulfillment of our shared vision for healthy church.

Spiritual formation seminar

In October, GCI’s Champlin and Bloomington, MN, congregations hosted day-long seminars titled “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality—Journey to Maturity.” Both Odyssey in Christ seminars were facilitated by Larry Hinkle, Gracie Johnson, and Ron and Rebecca Hickman. The seminars helped participants understand the connection between emotional health and spiritual maturity; the symptoms of emotionally unhealthy spirituality; the nature of our true selves, hidden in Christ; and how contemplative practices lead to emotionally healthy spirituality.

Odyssey in Christ leader Larry Hinkle addresses the Champlin group.

Here are comments from seminar participants:

  • The seminar opened the way for a closer walk with God.
  • I learned how God’s love is working in peoples’ lives.
  • I learned to take time for inner contemplation—reflecting on inner stress, motivation and the richness of deep feelings.
  • I learned to be honest/vulnerable with God—knowing who I am by drawing closer to God. I was overwhelmed by his presence and love. The seminar awakened a desire to be intimate with God.
  • Dr. Hinkle said we were created in such a way that often our bodies (through feelings/emotions) know something before our minds do. He urged us to not ignore these feelings/emotions and take them to the Lord in prayer. He will reveal the source of those feelings (whether negative or positive, recent or buried deep in the past) and bring about transformation and healing. Personal stories from Gracie Johnson, and Ron and Rebecca Hickman showed how this unfolds.
  • The seminar provided eye-opening insights into past wounds that trigger negative behaviors and hinder growth in emotional maturity. We were challenged to identify feelings that have been stuffed and festering, and given tools to bring those feelings into the light of Jesus’ love so that healing can begin.

December Equipper

Here are links to the articles in the December issue of GCI Equipper.