GCI Update

Culture of Liberation

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear Family and Friends,

You may recall seeing the Support/Challenge Matrix in some of our publications. This diagram effectively demonstrates ways of being and operating that create a cultural pattern for a person or organization.

I was recently challenged to define what I mean by a culture of liberation. Is the concept biblical? Does it fit with our Incarnational Trinitarian Theology? The short answer is yes, it is biblical, and it fits with our theology. Further, it describes the emerging culture of GCI.

One of the greatest gifts Jesus gave us is freedom. Luke tells us Jesus has set us captives free (Luke 4:14-21). He is the one who has freed us from the dominance of legalism and the culture of fear and manipulation. He is the one, through the power of the Spirit, who has filled us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He is the one who moves out of the culture of apathy. He joins us to the purpose of the Father in pointing us to the eternal kingdom and away from the culture of self-centeredness and entitlement.

And yet we are called to participate. To do so, we must come out of the prison cells of our old self and our old surroundings and embrace the freshness of life in him. We are free because of him and through him. He is the one establishing the culture of empowerment and opportunity in us. It is his good pleasure to do this work in us.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul talks plainly about what a healthy church community looks like.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:14-16)

Rather than a community that gets swept up in and entrapped by the noise, rhetoric, and false news of the day, in Christ we are freed to be a community that boldly “speaks the truth in love.” Striking the balance of high support and high challenge toward one another—out of “grace always”—is the sign of a healthy church, where leaders and members speak honestly and lovingly to one another. Being honest and loving is how we are joined and held together, and it is all from him who is the head of the church—the one who empowers us through the Spirit.

This may seem like a nuance, but a culture of liberation is not license. Rather it is a strong commitment to Christ and to one another. Empowerment and opportunity do not let us off the hook for being our brother and sister’s keeper. Being united in Christ means that we are for one another; we are accountable to each other—even (and maybe especially) when we experience differences of opinions. If it takes strong bones, toned muscles and elastic ligaments all in alignment for a human joint to operate smoothly and effectively, imagine how much active participation it takes from you and me to be a part of a mature healthy church?

The culture of liberation that we are growing into allows us to be free from sin, death, guilt, and shame, and yet it goes further. Not just “free from,” but “free for.” We are free to become the best versions of ourselves as we grow in relationship with Jesus and with one another. I think of freedom in Christ as an invitation and empowerment. I am free to join him and participate in much of what he is doing. I am free to see how he is at work in people around me, and I am free to share his love that he has liberally bestowed on me.

Brothers and sisters, it is Jesus who has joined us together. It is Jesus who liberates and empowers. May we embrace, celebrate, and perpetuate the culture of liberation that he is showering upon us.

Praising him for my liberation,

Greg Williams

The National Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

While issues of racism, injustice, abuse of power and protest have been part of the national conversation in America throughout our history, events such as the George Floyd killing by a police officer last May brought a call to action to every dinner table, newsroom, and church pew in 2020.

Celestine and Leonard Olive
Celestine and Leonard Olive

Once again, the Spirit seemed to be convicting the soul of America, but more importantly, the heart of the Body of Christ to respond to the personal, community and systemic divisions and abuses, particularly those affecting people of color.

One key question being asked was, “How should the Christian Church and in particular Grace Communion International speak into and become a part of the solution to this crisis of racial, interpersonal and spiritual division in America?”

Annette Nettles
Annette Nettles

It was clearly understood that our GCI members, pastors, Regional Directors and Home Office Team were all grieving what we saw each night on the news as the pent-up emotions from weeks, months, years, decades and centuries of abuse and mistreatment within minority communities spilled into the streets in protest.

Terry and Kizziah McDonald
Terry and Kizziah McDonald

The cry to be “heard” was passionate and very often peaceful but at other times, escalation of those emotions led to violent reactions and interactions between police and protesters. We saw destruction, fires, and opportunistic mayhem, but we also saw tears, lament and prayer for reconciliation and peace.

Al and Marilyn Talison
Al and Marilyn Talison

GCI President, Greg Williams and several in the Home Office team began discussing, planning, and implementing a preliminary gospel-centered denominational response to all we were seeing in our nation. Simultaneously, several of our pastors were prayerfully seeking to call up GCI to speak into the national crisis.

 

 

Dishon & Afrika Mills

Regional Directors began having Zoom calls with the Black pastors in their regions to understand what these pastors and members from minority communities were feeling, praying and hoping the Lord would do in this crisis.

 

Subsequently, Michael Rasmussen, Superintendent of the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean, set up Zoom calls with our Black Pastors and Fellowship Group Facilitators who were interested in speaking into the crisis and any potential denominational response. When asked for a quote on the council he had this to say,

“We are very excited to have our newly formed National Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We are thankful and humbled by those who have agreed to serve on this council, considering their plates are already quite full. We are prayerful and hopeful the Holy Spirit will work in and through all of those involved to help us better understand who we truly are as ‘his Body’, as a denomination and also as individual beloved children of God. If we are all truly one in him, then the church must reflect that in every aspect.”

Tommie Grant Jr. and Robin Grant
Tommie Grant Jr. and Robin Grant

After several meetings with those pastors and fellowship group facilitators, he set up a National Advisory Council to help GCI better address issues faced by people of color and minority groups within GCI.

Although the mandate is to give advice, counsel and make recommendations on how GCI U.S. can effectively address issues facing all minorities, the current national situation led to a focus on the Black American experience.

Ron Washington
Ron Washington

The pastors on Mr. Rasmussen’s calls were grouped by regional designations and asked to prayerfully recommend three people (two members and one alternate) to serve as representatives to this forming National Advisory Council.

To adequately represent the local congregations, he asked that this council include two pastors of chartered churches from each of our five GCI regions, have male and female voices, have diversity in age, and reflect urban, suburban and rural communities.

Gabriel and Christine Ojih
Gabriel and Christine Ojih

Representing the GCI Home Office as facilitators of the Council are Jeff Broadnax (Regional Director) and Dishon Mills (Pastor and Coordinator of Generations Ministries).

As representatives of the GCI Board, Tommie Grant Jr. and Celestine Olive (who are both pastors as well as Board members) accepted invitations to serve on the Council.

Charles and Debbie Young
Charles and Debbie Young

The following are the regional representative members:

Western Region: Celestine Olive (Lancaster, CA), Annette Nettles (Washougal, WA)

Central Region: Terry McDonald (Kansas City, MO), Gabriel Ojih (Dallas, TX)

Tracy and Rita Winborne
Tracy and Rita Winborne

North Central Region: Al Talison (Indianapolis, IN), Ron Washington (Livonia, MI)

Southeastern Region: Tracy Winborne (Charlotte, NC), Charles Young (Atlanta, GA)

Eastern Region: Tamar Gray (Cleveland, OH), John Newsom (Queens, NY)

Tamar Gray
Tamar Gray

GCI Board: Tommie Grant Jr. (Ladson, SC), Celestine Olive (Lancaster, CA)

Facilitators: Jeff Broadnax (Grove City, OH), Dishon Mills (Waltham, MA)

In their first meeting, they selected the name National Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as a true reflection of the Christ-centered mission for GCI they are undertaking.

John Newsom and Vicky Barrios-Newsom
John Newsom and Vicky Barrios-Newsom

Their primary goal is to reflect on GCI’s past and present regarding matters of race, diversity, equity and inclusion then make recommendations to Superintendent Rasmussen to help us better fulfill our GCI vision of Healthy Church as we live and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. With the empowerment of the Holy Spirit they will do so to the glory of the Father and the betterment of our church and world.

Jeff and Karen Broadnax
Jeff and Karen Broadnax

 

Jeff Broadnax
Regional Director, Eastern USA

 

The Mission Gift of Presence

Every mid-December beginning in 2006, Crossing Borders mission trip has gone into Mexico with hundreds of shoebox gifts, blankets, totes, baby supplies, food, and other resources—14 “shoebox trips.” It is surely a wonderful blessing to have many U.S. churches, clubs and individuals provide these resources—Thank you!

But one of the most important “gifts” we can provide is not a physical present, but our “presence”—just being there, showing God’s love, building relationships on a personal level with people with great hearts and great challenges every day. With the U.S./Mexican border still closed, CB was unable to take missionaries or physical gifts into Mexico, but we do our best to continue the “gift of presence” during this COVID crisis.

Many times the presence has to be by email, phone calls, Facebook Messenger or other methods—and those are wonderful tools. However, this year two of the core CB Team members, Lee Berger and Pedro Orduno, were able to spend a few days at the border, visiting with some of our U.S.-side ministry partners. Here are some updates from our visit:

  • We were housed at Laredo Stepping Stone (LSS). Rick Hall is the facility/ministry manager. He recently recovered from near-death COVID, but his wife (Kim) died from the virus in August. We were able to spend time talking with Rick, sharing meals, hearing stories about Kim, and helping with construction and maintenance projects at the camp. While we were there, Rick went to the emergency room for several hours due to very high blood pressure.
  • Ray and Lisa Rendon (and boys Rayito, Benji and Ryan) assist Rick at LSS camp. Ray also pastors a church in Nuevo Laredo, across the border in Mexico. Because of the current travel restrictions, the Rendons cannot travel into Mexico, so Ray is pastoring his church remotely. Amazingly, the church is growing in attendance, and the members are taking on new responsibilities at the church in Ray and Lisa’s absence. It was wonderful to spend time with this family that we have known for 15 years. We involved the boys in building and painting a cornhole game board and did some kite flying; they had a blast!
  • We met “Jose” and his family. They were staying at the camp for a couple days as they headed back into full-time missionary ministry in central Mexico. In their city, evangelical Christians are only 2% of the population (the rest are Catholic [mostly non-practicing], followers of traditional pseudo-spiritual religions, and the unreligious). Plus there is a lot of drugs, violence and immorality. It is a great challenge to be a Christian and to grow a church in that environment. Jose and his family have been threatened at gunpoint, but they continue to feel God’s calling to minister in that area.
  • Carlos Flores pastored a church for eight years that met in a city park in Laredo (on the U.S. side) and he taught Bible classes at a local college. Crossing Borders has participated with Carlos for many years. Four years ago, his health took a turn for the worse. He had to stop pastoring and could barely function. During this trip, we were able to meet with him for over two hours and found that his health is slowly improving. He has begun a private Bible study group and has goals to reconnect with young adult ministry.
  • Jeannie Leyendecker’s husband, Randy, died from heart conditions this past July. Randy was a fireball of ministry on the border, helping many pastors and churches, providing food for thousands in the community, loyally delivering food and necessary supplies to homeless on the streets, and more. Jeannie is struggling mentally and in grief, and she is dealing with many challenging situations and decisions after Randy died. Thankfully, she has three grown kids close by, and they give her good support. Your prayers are appreciated for all of these individuals as they serve in their different areas. These are some highlights of the trip:
  • We took homemade cookies to our partners (a CB tradition), handmade blankets and tote bags, and some other gifts that Ray and Lisa will take across the border and given to those in need.
  • Crossing Borders bought groceries to be given in gift bags and were able to purchase some other needed supplies for the border ministries.
  • Most of all, we were able to spend many hours in personal interaction with our partners and to assure them that CB continues to remember, care for and pray for them.

We gave them the gift of “presence”—God’s presence through us—and that was a blessing to all involved.

Lee Berger, Crossing Borders Director and Facilitator
Longview, TX

Gordon Herrmann Completes Intern program

Gordon Herrmann

Please join me in celebrating Gordon Herrmann’s completion of the GCI Ministry Intern program. Gordon served for 2.5 years as a ministry intern at Christ Fellowship Church in Cincinnati, OH, with Pastor Julie Frantz. He is now serving as a Pastoral Resident at Grace Communion Surrey Hills. Gordon brings a passion for small group ministry and facilitating relationship building. Ministering alongside Gordon, I have experienced insightful conversations as well as many a rowdy, fellowship-building game night. Please enjoy Gordon’s answers to the following questions about his time in the program.

Cara Garrity, Development Coordinator

 


Why did you enter the GCI Ministry Intern program?

I entered the program because I was starting to feel the call of ministry on my heart. I had been working in campus and youth ministry during college and fell in love with ministry. I had several mentors who affirmed this calling and pointed me in the direction of the GCI Ministry Intern program.

Tell us about your passion for ministry and how God has developed it.

My passion for ministry is based on relationships. I have a heart for God and for his people. There are a lot of different aspects of ministry, but at the heart is people. And through my ministry, I’ve learned that people are more important than programs or things. If that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t have any interest in ministry. God has blessed me with the opportunity to walk alongside him in his ministry. I love getting the chance to walk alongside others and pointing them toward Jesus. It was through experiencing this and getting those opportunities in my ministry that God developed this passion.

What impact did the program have on your ministry leadership journey?

The program had a lot of different impacts on me, but more than anything else it increased my desire to continue on this path. I learned a lot about the rhythms of church life, and what a leader’s role in those rhythms are. After experiencing everything I did throughout the program I felt a really strong confirmation that vocational ministry was the path God has laid out for me. I know it won’t always be easy, but I’ll stick with it for as long as I feel God calling me along this path!

What are your big takeaways from your time spent as an intern?

I’ve definitely learned the importance of trusting God. I’ve learned a lot of skills, what to do, what not to do, etc. But nothing else sticks out quite like trust. I moved across the country to a church where I knew nobody, I experienced a church in transition from pastor to pastor, I experienced a world in quarantine, I experienced many highs and many lows. None of it I ever could have predicted, and I would be lying if I said I always had the best attitude through it, but God was beside me through it all. And as I reflect on it, I see where he was at work in and around me. I hope to move forward for the rest of my life with the confidence that comes with trust in a God who is good and who loves and provides for me in both the hills and the valleys!

 


Funding for the GCI Ministry Intern Program comes from the GCNext Fund, the local congregation and intern fundraising. Thank you to all who help make this program successful!

Joliet Community Outreach

On the 2nd Sunday of Advent, after our worship service, we had a gift bag packing project. We are planning on once-a-month outreach activities like this, but initially focusing on the gospel work of the Pregnancy Resource Center in Joliet.

Please click the link below to see the video on our project.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NA9RDobDe8

James Newby, Pastor
Joliet, IL

Devotional – Moved with Compassion

“But when he saw the crowds he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed, and cast away as sheep not having a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 – Darby Bible Translation)

The Greek word here for compassion is “splanchnizomai”. The word literally means to “be moved in the bowel.” When Jesus saw the crowds, he noticed and felt their pain and suffering deep within his gut. He “experienced” their trouble and helplessness and he was stirred with profound, intense emotion to do something about it. He gathered his disciples and empowered them with authority to cast out demons and to heal every disease and sickness.

Have you ever encountered others who seemed abused or abandoned? What about the young man begging for money on your way to work? What about your neighbor who is a single mom? What about your family member who just needs you to sit down and listen with an open heart? How can we show compassion to those around us? First…stop and take notice. It is so easy in our busy lives to rush on by without a second glance for those who are lost and hurting. Second, ask God if there is a way for you to truly help them. God might say “no” but he also might say “yes.” He might tell you to give the young man the money in your pocket or buy him a sandwich. He might tell you to ask your neighbor if you can babysit a few hours her. He might tell you to share some encouragement and pray for someone. The important thing is to stop, notice, pray and do something.

Prayer: Lord, help us notice and see others as you see them. Help us feel what you feel about them. Help us take appropriate action as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Lord, give us your compassion for those around us.

 

By Davina Winn, Assistant Pastor
Hanover, VA