GCI Update

Now What?

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Holy Week and Easter Sunday have come and gone. I trust your online services from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday to Easter morning were uplifting and shared with friends and family beyond our normal GCI membership. It is quite an ironic blessing to be under the “Stay at Home” orders and still be able to bolster our engagement with people outside the walls of our normal church meetings. Our amazing Triune God works in mysterious ways and he is so good to include us.

He is risen! We have celebrated. Now what?

Allow me to pick up with the New Testament passage from the postcard I sent to encourage our pastors last week:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures… (I Corinthians 15:3-4 NRSVA)

So here is the “Now what?”

and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. (1 Corinthians 15:5-11 NRSVA)

For the 40 days from Easter Sunday until his ascension, the resurrected Jesus came and went with some regularity, interacting with individuals, small groups of people, and even a crowd as large as 500 people. He did marvelous works, including restoring Peter and helping “Doubting Thomas” to see and touch his scars, which was underscored by Thomas worshipping and proclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” The crescendo of Christ’s appearances was the giving of the Great Commission, in which he told the original disciples—and hence all followers for all ages—to go into the world with his guiding presence, to share the good news, teaching all things about him, and then to baptize through the name of Father, Son and Spirit.

Paul documents the risen Lord and several key aspects of his involvement over this 40-day period until Jesus ascended to return to the Father. Paul also extends beyond the 40 days to show how Jesus came to him. (Do you recall the “Road to Damascus” experience?) And by the grace of God, Jesus is still coming to humanity—and the “acts” of the church continue.

The “Now what?” for GCI is asking the question, how do we maintain relationship with those he is drawing to himself in March and April 2020 in the middle of a historic pandemic? It is great for us to be encouraged by seeing swelled numbers of viewers in our online services, but what about follow-up? What ways and means are we deepening relationships with these viewers? What practical ways are we extending the love of Jesus? Are we providing means for them to connect with the local congregation? Are we thinking of follow-up after the pandemic has passed? Are we planning ahead for ways to connect with those in our neighborhoods? Do we provide a link to a Facebook page, an invitation to write a message, a means for them to reach out and connect or to be prayed for? We want to use wisdom and discernment in the ways we connect, instead of posting our private phone numbers —perhaps we can reach out through private groups and messaging applications. There are many safe, useful platforms.

The Lord is providing opportunities during the stay-in-place and social-distancing orders we might not have considered. We have included several examples of what GCI congregations are doing. In addition, our Media Team recently started a special Facebook group called the “GCI Creative Community.” This is a great place to share your best ideas and then single-out ideas from others that can also benefit your circumstance.

The Hope Avenue of our GCI ministry has been reworked in a major way with our demand for online services. And now the Love Avenue is being challenged and molded into its emerging form as well.

May the risen Lord have his way with the church!

Greg Williams

 

GCI Creative Community

This month the GCI Media Team opened the GCI Creative Community group on Facebook. This group is a connecting point and resourcing space for GCI Creatives. This includes multimedia team members, Hope Venue Champions, worship team members, pastors, and anyone else who serves in their GCI congregation. We serve one another by creating a safe space to share ideas, give feedback, and discuss best practices, all while having fun and expressing our God-given creativity!

This group was born out of a desire to support, connect with, and learn from fellow GCI creatives. We want to support you, our community, with the tools you need for successful creative ministry and alignment across our fellowship. If you are a GCI creative and would like to join the group, please click here. There are 4 steps to complete before pressing “submit.” To best serve you and create a safe space, please answer all three questions, and read and agree to the guidelines, before clicking “submit.” Thank you!

 

GC Richardson: Staying Connected and Being the Church Through the COVID-19 Crisis

Having a church family means we don’t have to be isolated even at this unprecedented time. We refuse to buy into fear and anxiety. How? By staying connected to Jesus and each other.

Grace Communion Richardson (Texas) has been using this time of “social distancing” to move ahead on several communication projects to help with this. We phoned each member to check in, and at the same time we updated their contact information and communication preferences in our Planning Center (http://planningcenter.com) system. In the coming weeks we’ll be using Text In Church (http://textinchurch.com), which syncs with Planning Center, to encourage our members. Previously we’d used it only to connect with visitors.  We’ll also produce an updated member directory to help members keep in touch with each other more easily.

Checking in with members revealed several needs. A couple of people didn’t have internet access; another member helped them hear the live-streamed service through the telephone. A few others had run out of toilet paper and paper towels and couldn’t find any in stores; other members delivered the items the next day. We’re using our member’s Facebook page to share needs like this as we discover them.

Christine Ojih and Nadine Santibanez are making face masks and encouraging others to do so to provide to neighborhood hospitals. A nurse friend in one of our hospitals shared how the shortages are even beginning to impact availability for the kiddos in the children’s cancer ward.

Like many churches, we immediately moved our services online using Facebook Live.  After the first Sunday, we started using OBS (http://obsproject.com)  software to produce a more professional broadcast.  Member Barry Ford, who runs the company Future Broadcast, (http://www.futurebroadcast.biz) used his professional skills to take live performances from several praise team members recorded in their homes to produce combined worship videos, which we added to the livestream.

The livestreams have been well received and had hundreds of views from members and those outside the church. One watch party drew viewers from all over the world. This is one way we can share the hope we have in Christ in this time of uncertainty. We believe we are attracting attention from people who do not regularly attend church or yet have a relationship with Jesus.

Like many GCI congregations, we have a high number of seniors who fall in the most vulnerable category of the virus. Please pray for continued protection and peace for all seniors around the globe.

Please pray that this crisis will point many people to Jesus, our constant source of hope, especially in times of trouble.

In his peace and hope,
Pastor Gabriel and Christine Ojih

 

Finding Inspiration in Kansas City

You Are Loved!

As I was sitting watching virus updates the other day with my wife, I heard a lot of horns blowing outside our front door. It was a bit disturbing, so my wife and I looked out the window with concern, thinking something was wrong. To our delight, we witnessed a very touching sight. There were seven cars that were driving through the neighborhood. Each car was decorated with signage and other decorations. The signs had messages such as we love you, we miss you and we can’t wait to be with you again. These were teachers and faculty from the local school district who took a moment of their lives during this dark time we are facing to share a message of love to their students and their parents.

It put joy in my heart to see that moment of goodness in humanity in the face of the ugly side of recent happenings in our world. These teachers and faculty members showed many people in the neighborhood a great example of what giving someone a moment of light in the darkness looks like. I truly believe that moment will impact the little girl who was outside with her mom learning to ride a bike and watched this caravan go by. What I learned from this is that we never know how what we do will impact the life of another, but we must be mindful of what we do when the opportunity presents itself. Do we ignore the moment, or do we engage with the Holy Spirit in that moment he shows us the opportunity to love others as we love ourselves?

The dark times that humanity faces have a tendency to keep us in realms of fear and doubt. However, when our Incarnate Lord Jesus came to us, he did the same thing these teachers did, albeit in a more impactful way for all humanity. Watching these teachers declare their love and dedication to these students in the midst of something where these young people probably don’t fully grasp the magnitude of the danger at hand reminded me to look to Jesus as he declares his love and dedication to us. Isaiah 63 captures this story of love and restoration from dark times very well. How beautiful it will be when these students and teachers are reunited in the fullness of the relationship they share, just as we anxiously await the reunion with Jesus realized in the fullness of the relationship he desires with us into eternity. Thank you, teachers of the world, for your love and dedication, and thank you, Lord Jesus, for your love and dedication to all humanity.

Stay safe, blessed and loved!

Terry McDonald
Lead Pastor
Living Grace Fellowship (GCI)
Kansas City, MO

Youth-Led Prayer Initiatives – GCI Ghana

The GCI congregations in Ghana have, over the last few years, seen an increased desire to pray, worship and draw nearer to God. This is particularly evident in members in their 40s and younger.  They find opportunities to be more intentional in their walk with God. New media is used innovatively.

Four interesting examples include:

  1. 21 Days of Fasting and Prayers – This is linked to Ghana’s annual 7 Days of Fasting and Prayers, which take place in early January each year. This fasting and prayer period is extended to 21 days for those willing & interested.
  2. Weekly  Prayer and Worship on Zoom – This is a 1-hour meeting that takes place on Tuesday evenings each week and is led by volunteers.  Zoom is an online meeting room, and most join using their mobile phones. Members briefly discuss Bible passages, worship and pray.
  3. Quarterly All-Night Thanksgiving, Worship and Prayers. This takes place four times a year at the church campsite from 10 pm to 3 am.
  4. Daily 1-hour Prayer and Worship on Zoom During 21 Days of Fasting. This takes place at 7 pm each evening during the 21 Days of Fasting in January.

 

Blessings,
Glowen Kyei Mensah
Member, GCI Ghana

 

We Were There 

“Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.” John 19:40 NKJV

This poignant account from John’s Gospel of Jesus is beautiful in its simplicity.

Johnny Cash famously sang an old spiritual: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” One of the lines is, “Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?” Imagine. Let’s go back to that moment. What if you or I had to take care of the dead body of a loved one? What if it were battered and bloodied? Where would you start?

How did Joseph and Nicodemus feel as they took Jesus’ body down? Did the centurion, who had witnessed the crucifixion, help them? Was the cross lowered first, and then, gently, with tears in their eyes, did they extract the nails from the flesh and pry the crown of thorns from his head? What next? Did they take some clean cloth, to wash away the blood and dirt from his body, and, with tenderness, pat it dry in preparation for the first embalming? Was this followed by wrapping the strips of linen, infused with sweet-smelling, preserving spices, around his lifeless body before laying Jesus respectfully in the tomb?

How did the women react as they watched on? What emotions gripped them as they followed the men carrying him to the tomb, and watched as the stone closed its entrance? The song continues, “Ohh, sometimes it causes me to tremble…tremble.”

In a sense, we were there.

The Jesus story goes from sadness to elation, from sorrow to joy, from weeping to singing, because, you remember what happens…three days later the stone is rolled away! Well, were you there when the stone was rolled away? Johnny Cash goes on to sing. We all – each of us, everyone who has ever lived and who will live in the future – participate in all that Jesus is and in the key events of his ministry.

Jesus’ story becomes our story. Jesus is no longer nailed to that cross or dead in the grave. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4 NIV).

Prayer
Thank you, Father, for your son, Jesus, who died for us and was raised from the dead for us that we might live a new life in him. In Jesus’ name.
Amen 

 

Study by James Henderson
Superintendent of Europe

 

 

 

 

Note from the Editor:

Although we are a few days past our Resurrection Sunday celebration, I chose to include this devotional in this issue of GCI Update because I believe now, maybe more so than we have ever felt collectively, we can relate to this story. In the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic the world watches in stunned horror. We are all affected. Families are kept from their dying loved ones. We feel the collective pain, and we watch, and we mourn together, waiting for the joy after the sorrow.

This season, not only are we beginning our transition from Easter toward Ordinary Time, but we have also transitioned from our usual daily routines into a time of social-distancing and connecting with each other from afar. In this dually transitional time, how are we the church living a new life in this season and hoping for the time when our joy is fulfilled, and we can be reunited with our loved ones?

 

Wishing you every blessing,
Charlotte Rakestraw

April Prayer Guide

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