GCI Update

Godly Friendship

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The presidents all around the world have had their leadership tested through the recent global pandemic. I am a student of history and I enjoy reading about the different Presidents and some of the challenges they faced. I am a huge fan of US President Abraham Lincoln for many reasons. Historians characterize him as the best president in all of US history, and certainly he brought the country through a dark and troubled time.

Last summer on family vacation I read a fascinating book by Doris Kearns Goodwin entitled Team of Rivals. This book documents how Lincoln was secure enough and wise enough to work with other politicians who did not always agree with him. In fact, the very men who ran against him in the election of 1860 he placed in highly responsible positions on his cabinet.

In his early life Lincoln suffered great loss. When he was nine years old his mother died from what was called “milk sickness.” His mother was who he attributed his intelligence and inspiration. Her loss was significant. When Abe was 18, his older sister Sarah—who had a large role in raising young Abraham—died in childbirth. Then four years after the death of his sister, his first real love, Ann Rutledge, died from typhoid fever.

Twenty months after Ann’s death, Abe moved to Springfield, IL, to begin his law practice. Because he had never received mentoring and sponsorship from an established lawyer—which was the more typical path into law—Abe was a fairly desperate man hoping that his fledgling law practice would be successful. He was certainly a man who could use a friend and much-needed encouragement. Enter Joshua Speed.

Joshua was a well-educated man—a bit younger than Lincoln—and the proprietor of the Springfield General Store. Instead of selling Lincoln a bed on credit, he offered him the opportunity to become his roommate. Here is what Goodwin said about their relationship.

“Lincoln and Speed shared the same room for nearly four years. Over time, the two young men developed a close relationship, talking nightly of their hopes and their prospects, their mutual love of poetry and politics, their anxieties about women. They attended political meetings and forums together, went to dances and parties, etc.”

It is clear that this hearty friendship with Speed came at a critical juncture for Lincoln. The Bible speaks a lot to the value of friendship. The Proverbs says that a true friend sticks closer even than a biological brother. Joshua was that kind of friend to Abe.

The example of Lincoln and Speed makes me think of the biblical relationship of Jonathan and David.

Jonathan and David’s relationship was characterized by a loving friendship, with their souls knit together in shared values, mutual admiration, and bonded in covenant to one another.

1 Samuel 18:1-4 documents how Jonathan received David into the ranks of the Israelite army, into the palace, into the family as his brother-in-law, and with the deepest sense of true brotherhood. As the story unfolds, we see how Jonathan worked to keep David safe from the murderous attempts from his father King Saul. How remarkable it is for Jonathan to stand in the gap for David in this fashion.

Ultimately, Jonathan’s sister Michal forsook David, but Jonathan held true to his covenantal relationship, which is amazing since David was anointed to become the next king instead of prince Jonathan. Upon hearing the news of Saul and Jonathan’s demise in battle, David expressed this deeply emotional lament:

How the mighty have fallen
    in the midst of the battle!

Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
   I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
    your love to me was wonderful,
    passing the love of women.
(2 Samuel 1:25-26 NRSV)

The selfless, spiritual friendship we see on display with Jonathan and David is evidence of God’s presence in the lives of these two men. I would suggest that Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed were also a living extension of the love of God present in their bond of friendship. These examples of brotherly affection, deep commitment to one another and genuine honoring of one another hold out great hope for how relationships can be.

I have been richly blessed with true friends at all stages of my life. For many people in leadership, be they presidents of countries or pastors of churches, they often experience a great deal of loneliness. For any of our GCI leaders who may feel alone and discouraged, I recommend that you show yourself friendly and give attention to forming some meaningful relationships. You will be glad that you did.

In Brotherly Love,
Greg Williams

Hope from Colombia

During this time confined to our homes, we have found different ways to celebrate Christ. In my own case, I have been growing in intimacy with Jesus. I have been praying more and spending more time in his word. I have found new ways to do ministry as I’ve become more aware of the needs of others. My priorities have changed. I have been much more careful in the way I relate to my family. Under the unusual stress of us all being home, we have found ways to focus on the centrality of Christ in our lives.

At the beginning of this pandemic, it was said that countries like mine, Colombia, were going to suffer many deaths because, among other things, we did not have the social discipline, nor it was possible to keep the social distance to avoid getting infected. So authorities implemented drastic and strong measures to control the situation. Men were allowed to go out for shopping and other basic things only on even days and odd days women had their turn. So far, we have under 500 deaths reported by the coronavirus. Nevertheless, the economy has suffered a great loss. Many are experiencing difficult situations of unemployment.  How to help in the name and the power of Jesus? All of us church members are in touch with each other through WhatsApp, Zoom, and Skype, and we are aware of the needs of each other.  We send food or money to those who are in need. We pray together, study the Scriptures in many small groups, and motivate each other to good deeds toward our families and those close to us who are in need. And we do that in the name of Jesus.  We understand that he is with us also in this stressful time. We understand that the present crisis is for our good. And we worship Jesus and rest on him.

This pandemic has shaken the church for the better. Members are more given to pray and participate in small groups to study the Bible and are more into giving, helping, and sharing with others in need. That is good! Members are allowing more of Jesus in their lives. Members are more grateful for their blessings. It is as if Jesus were making us more aware of the blessings we have.  Even though we are experiencing this pandemic, much of the prayers I hear from church members are of thanksgiving for the blessings they have. That is remarkable because I know some of the members are going through difficult situations. That is possible because their hope is centered on Jesus.

I think the church has been edified and nurtured in this time of crisis because we got closer to the head of the church, Jesus.

Blessings,

Hector Barrero
Pastor
Bogota, Colombia

Death of Stuart Powell

Mark McCulley, our pastor in Denver North, and his wife Joanne are sad to announce the death of Joanne’s father, Stuart Powell, at the age of 86 after several heart attacks. Stuart had a long and varied career, including serving in the Royal Air Force in Africa, graduating from Ambassador College Bricket Wood, serving as an elder and pastor in England and Scandinavia, and owning several businesses before and after his ministerial service. His wife Joyce passed away in 2011, and he had been cared for by Joanne, who flew from America several times a year.

Stuart was a bibliophile and lifelong learner, often studying deeply into topics of interest, giving talks on angels and the RAF for various charities, as well as hundreds of sermons. He was well known for his love for his Savior and his personal warmth and sense of humor. He had been attending and serving in Skipton Baptist Church (SBC) the last ten years as his health made it impossible to attend the nearest GCI congregation in England, and he was much loved there, but his love for the people he had known and served for so long never died. SBC is honoring Stuart by assisting us with arrangements for an online funeral for Stuart on Saturday, May 23.

 

James Newby Prayer Update

Greetings,

I wanted to give you a brief update on my prostate cancer situation.

Thank you, one and all, and the family and church members you represent. Our Dad hears your prayers and I can attest that I (and my family) have been carried along by his answers to your requests and praises on my/our behalf.

From the night of the surgery, May 8, I was able to walk without assistance three laps around the hospital ward. Saturday evening I came home (in time for Karen to wait on me on Mother’s Day) and have been walking at least a ¼ mile a day except for one night when I walked an additional 1 mile.

With today’s procedure out of the way and with a continued good diet and appropriate exercise, I hope to make good steady progress to a new level of healthy. June 10 is the next time we have contact with the surgeon at which time we hope to hear the good news of negative cancer findings in the resected lymph glands.

We are overwhelmed by the love and support, and most of all the grace of our merciful King, Savior and friend, Jesus.

The fervent, effectual prayer of the righteous avails much.

 

Together with Jesus,
James and family

Every Day in the Fiery Furnace

About 10 years ago, during the upheaval of the “Arab Spring,” I received a baptism request via our UK website. We get a number of inquiries from abroad. Some of these are scams designed to extract money from us. We are therefore cautious in our response. We explain about our church and its teachings. We tell them that we are not a source of regular funding.

At that time a number of tyrannical regimes in the Middle East and North Africa had given way to emerging democracies. Although it was all done in the name of freedom, it did not necessarily mean more tolerance for Christianity and minority religions.  In some countries it led to renewed persecution. Christian families and churches were attacked by angry mobs.

We have a wonderful message of grace to share with people of all faiths and of no faith. The message is staggering in its simplicity. It says that everyone has been included in God’s grace. Everyone is forgiven for all the bad things they have done. Jesus died on the cross for all, and through his sacrifice, all people are drawn to God. Everyone. Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, New Ager, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, pagan and atheist. Whether we like it or not, each one of us has been forgiven in Christ. The call is to respond to God’s grace.

Against the background of these events in the Arab world we received this visit request from one of the nations involved. One of the most exciting things in pastoral ministry is to meet someone for the first time. So you can imagine my joy over this group of people in a country where we had no members.

I was twice delayed in going to see them. Once due to a personal accident, and on another occasion a bomb went off near the airport into which I was due to fly.

When I did go, it took about two hours to get from the airport to an industrial town in the middle of the country. The plan was that the group of eight would meet me the next day. They had to travel three hours from the mountains in order to get there. It had been decided that it was not safe for me to go to where they live. To meet there would have attracted the suspicions of neighbors and perhaps of the Islamic authorities. A few months before the government had expelled a Christian pastor for speaking openly about Christ. Throughout the land there is great antipathy towards evangelical Christians. We had to be as discrete as possible.

Only two people made it to see me. One was a young man in his late twenties and the other an older man, probably in his fifties. I asked them how their interest in Christ began. “We went to a book fair in a coastal town, and found, tucked away in a corner of a stall, some copies of the New Testament in Arabic. When we got home, we read the New Testament from cover to cover. We were convicted that Christ is Lord.” One of them had access to the Internet and looked for a church to join. After much searching, they wrote to us.

I was transfixed by their story. There is something about the first love, isn’t there? Would I have been so diligent? Their zeal left me wanting, and I knew it, and yet here was I to minister to them. By visiting me they were risking their families and their livelihoods.

After prayerful discussion I baptized the younger man in the hotel bathtub, which was too small for the job. The older man decided to wait for another time. Since then another five people have been baptized on subsequent visits.

Life is difficult for them right now, with the combined events of the Coronavirus lockdown and Ramadan, which began April 23 and just ended on May 23. Typically, during Ramadan, the UK and Swiss churches have provided funds for them to go away together and thus not be involved in the Islamic festivities. With the lockdown, travel is not allowed, and yet our members want to get away from the ritual fasting and associated events. The group is small enough to be allowed to gather, and so they have decided, again with outside financial help, to meet near the hotel where I first met them. During Ramadan they will have discussions based on Arabic translations of the UK’s Day by Day Bible Studies and of articles from our French church’s website, and they hope to tune into the UK’s live streaming of sermons and studies while their facilitator translates.

But, now that Ramadan is over, what happens to them and to other Christians in Islamic countries and communities, where following Jesus is often not tolerated?

The book of Daniel tells us about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were believers caught up in a system that was against them and their faith. Being cast into a furnace as a means of execution was not a new thing. It was practiced widely. Nebuchadnezzar roasted two wayward prophets, Zedekiah and Ahab, in the fire (Jeremiah 29:22). Archaeologists have discovered huge kilns that were used for such purposes. Some are shaped like a railway tunnel, with the one end sealed up and the other end open. People could watch as the victims burned.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to respond to the daily call for prayer to a false god. Today many Christians are pressured by peers, family, and society to kowtow to the local or state religion. Every morning at my hotel I heard the haunting song of the muezzin reminding everyone everywhere to pray to Allah. Not to participate is viewed with suspicion. To preach a message of grace, as wonderful as it is, is dangerous stuff. The possibility of persecution is real.

We read in the news of isolated events where Christians are attacked for their belief in Christ. But it’s more prevalent than we realize. In many places in our turbulent world Christians face persecution on a regular basis. I know some of us also face daily victimization from family or acquaintances because we stand up for Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus suffered, so all of us share in his suffering.  For many Christians, every day seems like a walk in the fiery furnace.

When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace to watch the three men burn, he was amazed to see a fourth person. “Look!” he said, “I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25 NIV UK). Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is with us whatever happens to us. The Spirit of Christ comforts us and gives us hope, and he continues to do so in this time of Covid-19.

Please pray for our contacts, and for persecuted Christians everywhere, both at home and abroad.

James Henderson
Superintendent of Europe

Reflecting His Light

The Word of Christ dwells in abundance in you.

Colossians 3:17  states, “And whatever you do, be it in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” This is an invitation for us to have works of love in the name of Jesus.

I am impressed by the people of my city, Bogotá. In the midst of this poverty, one of the poorest families in our congregation gave us a moving example of service. Alirio and Cecilia have too long a story to tell here. They are displaced from rural areas. They had to come to town. They have three children, and they live in one of the poorest areas of the city. They are unemployed. But in the midst of their need, they were serving a sick elderly neighbor in a wheelchair, whom no one wanted to approach. Alirio and Cecilia fed him for several days until the local authorities learned of his case and came to take the old man to a hospital. What a great example! In the midst of this tension, of the crisis, of unemployment, of concern, the Christian rises to speak well, to bless, to inspire, motivate, to give words of encouragement and to act in the name of Jesus by doing what is good.

The Lord Jesus Christ prayed, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Let us not run from the evils of the world, but be helpers to others at this time. It is time to serve, to preach, it is the time of the church, of the gospel, of the witness of the saints, that Christians show our light to the world, in the name of Jesus.

Prayer: Well-founded on your rock and established in you, Lord, let us be columns of support to those who are going through tests in this pandemic. We are your reference points.  Keep us strong. Let us encourage those around us, starting with our families. Let us continue “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Amen.

By Hector Barrero
Pastor
Bogota, Colombia