GCI Update

Bula from Fiji

Greg and Susan Williams with Sue and Dennis Richards

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

I don’t always enjoy surprises, but I do appreciate good surprises. This is exactly what Susan and I experienced when we visited the island nation of Fiji. When you hear Fiji mentioned in a conversation, your mind goes to wonderful artesian drinking water, gorgeous flowers of all types, exotic birds, and breath-taking sunsets. These are all true, but my mind was mostly captured by the beautiful people – especially the GCI people.

Three years ago, James and Alisi Panuve extended a formal invitation for Susan and me to visit the church in Fiji. Upon the heels of the Australian conference in August, we were at last able to join Regional Director Dennis Richards and his wife, Sue, for an extended weekend visit.

The church gathered on Saturday morning for a formal Fijian welcoming ceremony called Veiqaravi Vakavanua. It is a solemn event performed and observed with dignity. The presentation of ceremonial items acknowledged how far the visitors have come. The ceremony signifies the respect for the honored guest in the spirit of welcoming a chief or a state dignitary. It also symbolized the joy and submission of the group in receiving me as their President of GCI. I was humbled and highly honored.

Susan and I were greeted by all the members in attendance, and we enjoyed a wonderful social gathering in the British tradition called “Tea.” After the food and fellowship, Susan and Sue Richards met with the ladies and shared testimonies, life stories, and prayer for one another. Dennis and I were turned over to the care of the Young Adult group, a most lively and fun group ranging in ages of 17 to 35. We did an icebreaker exercise where we learned interesting facts about one another, and then one of the leaders facilitated a short lesson from Philippians 4:8. The energy and mutual love the group demonstrated was exceptional.

To further the relationship building, and to simply have some good clean fun, I invited the youth group back to the ice cream shop at my hotel. It was quite a spectacle of 30 of us walking down the city streets across the pitch (sports field) to the hotel, and then lining up to order our cups of ice cream. The hotel was kind enough to allow us to gather poolside and enjoy a beautiful afternoon in a delightful setting.

The youth group and a children’s choir played a significant role in the Sunday worship service. Their musical gifts were on display, especially the harmonies of their blended voices. I gave a sermon entitled, “Jesus Our True Foundation.” I have been giving this message in many places around the world for the purpose of showing that our model of Team-Based Pastor-Led ministry, accompanied by the ministry avenues of Faith, Hope and Love, are fully based in Jesus and better align us as we seek to participate with him under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Many commented how this message helped provide clear direction about where we are going as a church family, and many expressed how this feels like a restart for our church. I sense that too.

One of the highlights of the day and a main purpose for the trip was to ordain Frank Boyd, alongside his wife, Emily, as the new lead pastor for Grace Communion Fiji. Frank and Emily are deeply committed leaders who love the Lord and his church. They have the respect of the people and move with wonderful ease and grace as they interact and flow among the members. I am confident that this church has an able under shepherd who will flourish as he is led by the Great Shepherd.

Fiji was a happy surprise to Susan and me, and we enjoyed being in the company of one of GCI’s healthy churches in the middle of the Pacific. On their behalf let me say a hearty, “Bula!” This word embodies the deep joy in greeting another person. You certainly feel the joy of the Lord when you are with our dear brothers and sisters in Fiji.

Honored to be the GCI President,

Greg

P.S. Don’t miss more about the Fiji gathering in this issue by Epeli Nakautoga.

Blessed – Fiji

Dr. Greg and Susan Williams’ recent visit to Fiji was an awe-inspiring weekend for us. It was one we’ll find hard to forget.

Kicking off with a befitting traditional welcome usually accorded to a Fijian chief, the kava ceremony was breathtaking to witness in all its intricacies. Dr. Williams drank his first bowl of kava.

 

You’ve never really visited Fiji unless you’ve tried kava! The traditional welcome was followed by a lovely spread of morning tea coupled with Fijian classic serenades of the past led by one of our pioneer members, Mrs. Mere Tora and her son, Tukai.

The atmosphere was filled with joy and laughter. You could tell that everyone felt God’s presence moving in the hall. The congregation broke into groups with Mrs. Williams joining the ladies’ group. Dr. Williams joined the youth, then spent the afternoon taking them out for some ice cream and fellowshipping.

On Sunday, it was a pleasure to hear Dr. Williams speak on healthy church and the three Avenues of Hope, Faith, and Love. We were encouraged to have Hope, Faith, and Love Avenue teams that work together in a team-based, pastor-led model through worship, discipleship, and witness. A major highlight for the church was the ordination of Mr. Frank Boyd to Elder. What a day to witness God’s amazing work for the Fiji church in play.

The day ended with Dr. Williams sharing with us a glimpse of GCI’s international family and a slideshow of the remarkable team working tirelessly across the continents of the world doing God’s great work. Though we may be operating locally, it was comforting and humbling to know that we are part of a bigger family in Christ. All these were again shared over a beautiful spread of tasty goodness. If there’s one thing that brings Fijians together, it’s good food!

We were fortunate to also have Mr. Dennis and Sue Richards accompanying the Williams to Fiji. It was a joy, as always, to have them around.

Though brief, it was truly an unforgettable weekend for us. There’s a sense of excitement for GCI Fiji, and everyone’s looking forward, young and old.

May God continue to bless us all!

By Epeli Nakautoga

Summer Bash – Marion, OH, US

On July 16, Heart of the Cross Church (HOTC) in Marion, Ohio, was blessed to be able to invite our community members and engagement partners to join us at our parking lot for the Summer Bash. Members of HOTC shared their gifts by cooking hotdogs, handing out water, performing music, and playing games with the children.

Our thirty-seven guests included staff and clients from the Turning Point Domestic Violence Shelter, neighborhood children, and members of the Newgrass Station Band. The Band provided music at no cost to the congregation and was led by HOTC Assistant Pastor George Breece, who is the lead singer and acoustic guitarist. A youth member of HOTC, Kaleb Marquis, was invited to play with the band as a stand-in guitarist during each of their sets.

Assistant Pastor Sharon Marquis led the children’s games. All leftover hotdogs were donated to the domestic violence shelter at the conclusion of the event. During the two-hour event, our 12-member congregation shared a joy-filled experience with new friends and further built partnership in the community as Jesus led us outside our walls.

By David Marquis, Pastor

Back-to-School Event – Queens, NY, US

New Life in Christ, the GCI congregation in Queens, New York City, conducted its annual Back-to-School event during the last weekend of July and focused community engagement into August.  We distributed 300 backpacks (more than double any previous year), reaching hundreds of households in its home neighborhood of Richmond Hill, Queens. (Our community of Richmond Hill is one of the most diverse communities in the most diverse borough of a very diverse city.)

The backpack distribution event and cookout took place on Saturday, July 30, followed by a special Sunday Service attended by some of our outreach guests.  The message, “Rich Towards God,” focused on the liberation Christ offers from the burdens that society seeks to impose.

The congregation used the month of August to focus on effective follow-up steps and deeper community engagement. On August 13, the congregation also joined with a community partner, The River Fund, as a sponsor and as volunteers. The River Fund is a non-profit focused on combatting poverty and its effects on families, with its back-to-school/food outreach for thousands of families in our greater community.

The total effort, which involved nearly every active member and ministry of the congregation, was implemented in the process of refining each of our Hope, Love, and Faith Avenues to facilitate the Spirit’s ongoing transformation of our congregation’s heart to better align with the missional imagination of Christ for our community.  Members took time to design special mugs, prayer cards, and encouragement for students and teachers.  Our hospitality team crafted a special cookout experience for all our guests.

Our Love Avenue team (driven by our Women’s Ministry) began this outreach and engagement process in the spring with our ambitious plan in prayer to reach hundreds of households in the community and distribute that many backpacks.  This year, we especially focused on enhancing the guest experience and follow-up steps rather than merely putting on an event.  Our guiding principle was Christ’s admonition, “One Thing is Needed” from Luke 10: focus on the presence of Christ, focus on the guests. This involved concentrated planning, including equipping a team that focused on welcoming guests, praying where feasible, and embracing opportunities to present our congregation.  We wanted our members to express confidence in the power of their short stories of faith and encouragement.

About half of our guests pre-registered for the event through our social media channels. So, we had a good sense of who would be coming, their circumstances, and some prayer concerns.  We also prepared for the engagement process (as part of community exegesis) by attending community meetings, visiting businesses and schools, and engaging local law enforcement.

We are joining with Christ’s enduring mission for spiritual, physical, and emotional transformation in our multi-racial, multi-ethnic community in forming lasting relationships in genuine place sharing.  We recognize that incarnational engagement is not “extra,” but a very part of our own identity as disciples of Christ.  In line with the biblical admonitions, “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18), so that we are able “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18).

By John Newsom, Pastor

Women of Faith Retreat – South Africa

August 9 is Women’s Day in South Africa. We thought it a good time to have our first post-COVID women’s retreat around that date.

From beginning to end, the event was marked by a very palpable need for communing with one another and several emotional encounters happened where we could share in one another’s grief and minister with great compassion. Since we last saw each other, many of us lost loved ones, jobs, businesses, and others suffered natural disasters. All that hurt and grief came to the surface, and we were grateful to God that he made this retreat possible.

The topics chosen by the various speakers from different church areas also leaned into the mood of things and one got the feeling that, “It Can Only Be God!” That was also the theme for the retreat.

We had pastor Carolyna Katengeza from GC Malawi as a guest speaker, and she really blessed us with her presence and her message.

Activities at the retreat were early morning devotions hosted by different regions and one could hear them singing in the chapel at around 6:00 a.m. as a signal for all to come. We had an African-themed day and a gala dinner as the grand finale. The staff at Aruka really pulled out all the stops and made every experience memorable.

We had about 60 ladies in attendance with most regions in the country represented. Those who could not make it, sent their greetings via video messaging.

One of the most special activities we had was a clothes exchange! Each one brought clothing items in good condition that they do not need or want anymore. We displayed these and everyone went looking for what they want or need. Whatever was left was donated to the needy. This was such a feel-good activity and very helpful.

It was very hard to leave the place at the end of the retreat and it made the promise of the next one even sweeter.

By Margaret Musekwa
Webmaster for GCI Solid Rock Church in Riviera, Republic of South Africa

Community Event – St. Michael, MN, US

Jon Arnold, pictured with his wife, Carey

One year ago, our congregation began meeting in St. Michael, MN. Formerly, we were located in Champlin and felt that Jesus was calling us to a new location to join with him in the ministry and work that he is already doing in the St. Michael community. We rent a banquet hall in the St. Michael movie theater. Unless you go to a Sunday movie or do a Google search specifically looking for us, you wouldn’t know we exist.

We were hoping to change that by introducing ourselves more broadly to the greater community by participating in the community’s Family & Youth City Connection (FYCC) street fair on September 10. This is a fundraising opportunity for the FYCC where businesses and organizations set up booths along the street and offer some activities or prizes for kids. The community comes out and can learn about the different businesses and organizations who paid to participate.

At our booth, we had a spinner wheel where kids had the possibility of winning a sucker, a fidget spinner, or the grand prize – a miniature oil paint painting set with a back-boarded canvas. We also had a face painting station for the kids.

For adults, we gave the opportunity to enter their names into a drawing to win one of two gift cards to the movie theater where we meet or one gift card to each of the two nearby gas stations. While the kids were participating in the activities and adults were entering the drawing, we talked a little about who we were and passed out flyers about our congregation.

God blessed us with a breathtakingly beautiful day. I would appreciate prayers for the seeds that were sown at this event. If there is anyone that stopped by who could be helped by participating in our congregation, pray that God would work in their lives to help them be comfortable to take the steps to visit us.

By Jon Arnold

GCI BUZZ – Place-sharing

This GCI Buzz describes place-sharing and provides examples. #gcibuzz

Click the image below to check out the full PDF.

 

Devotional – Let Christ’s Message Fill Your Life

Editor’s Note: Our overarching theme for devotions during the five months of the liturgical calendar called Ordinary Time is Jesus is sending his church. Using Michael Frost’s B.E.L.L.S. acronym as a framework, the topics will relate to missional living.

    • As “sent” people, we are invited to…
  • bless others generously, in word and deed (July),
  • eat with others hospitably (August),
  • listen to the Spirit while engaging with others (September),
  • learn Jesus’ teachings as a disciple (October),
  • and, sent people share the good news with others (November)

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. Colossians 3:16 NLT

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

Jesus, being the ultimate teacher, involves us and invites us to participate in the life of his church and his ministry. Col 3:16 starts with “Let,” as in permit. Participation with Christ is a choice – our choice.

“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives.” I love this translation: Let the word be at home in your heart.

Home is where we wear pajamas and no makeup; where we relax and share our hearts’ desires and innermost fears with those closest to us. Inviting the word to be at home in our hearts is not much different.  We spend lots of time together, but there are no formalities. As I heard one pastor amusingly describe it, we invite the word into the family room (not the formal living room), we put our feet up on the coffee table, we watch Netflix, and we eat cereal together!

This is not disrespectful. It’s merely the casualness and intimacy that comes from knowing someone well and regularly hanging out in God’s word.

“Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”  There are few things that revive the soul quite like good praise and worship music. It can move me to tears. I’ve been known to listen to a great song on repeat for – well, a long time!

There are also few things that bring joy to the soul quite like gratitude. Several years ago, I committed to writing a short daily gratitude entry for fifty days.  I ended up looking for ‘gratitude opportunities’ all day long, and the side effect of these fifty short daily writings was life changing. Even in the mess of daily life, my heart was full as I looked for the positives.

So, how can we be involved and participate in the life of Christ?  I’m pretty sure it starts with these two things in Col 3:16 – we put the words of God into our life, and we put the worship of God with gratitude into our life.

Prayer:
Lord, I invite your word into my heart and mind.
Holy Spirit, please flood my soul with your word.
Let me be saturated with your word of truth and get to know you more and more each day.
I want to know you, and be known by you, so I can participate in your love.
Let me love others like you love us.
Lord, I praise you and give thanks for all your good and wonderful blessings.
In Jesus name, amen.

By Gillian Houghton
GCI Canadian Board Chair