GCI Update

Leading from the Deepest Place

five people standing around a seated man, praying for their leader
Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

When I attend National Association of Evangelical (NAE) events, I get to sit next to denominational leaders, Christian organizational leaders, and presidents of Christian seminaries. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge in this esteemed group, and I am humbled and enriched to sit among them.

In a recent gathering, I sat next to Richard Stearns, former director of World Vision. World Vision started in the 1950s and has a long history of working around the world to help hurting communities lift themselves out of poverty. Richard, who has recently retired from his position at World Vision, is also a published author and highly respected among his peers. It was unexpected that we ended up at the same table and in conversation.

During our NAE gathering, we listened to a session entitled “Leading from the Deepest Place.” It was a prompt for us to think about what is most important to us in this stage of life and ministry. Another prompt was, “How do we decompress from the pressure of our jobs?” I found Richard’s answer humorous for both questions. He said that retirement was his new stage of life and his method of decompression. That rang true for many of the attendees.

Read More

Devotional—A Lament

Micah 6:8 says, “[God] has shown you . . . what is good. [W]hat does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

When we look at our societal fractures, however, those of us who identify as followers of the way of Jesus often fail to reflect the justice, mercy, and humility of our Savior. May this prayer be the cry of our hearts.

A Lament for Hiding Our Eyes from the Imago Dei

Holy Sacred God
You have asked us to be
Repairers of the breach
To mirror You as You
Proclaim good news and liberty
to those who are oppressed

Forgive us for
Seeking to make people
In our own image
Instead of seeking
To be conformed to Yours

We repent for
Our willful ignorance and arrogance
Our apathy and indifference
Our selfishness and inaction
Our defensiveness and pride

Forgive us for
Our lack of vulnerability and understanding
Our lack of curiosity and compassion
Our tendency to make statements
Instead of asking questions
Thinking we already know
Seeking our own comfort instead of
Listening, bearing witness
And rejoicing in the truth

We have marred
The image of Your image bearers
We have been silent
And covered our eyes and ears
We have refused to offer hope,
To restore, repair and protect
Instead of inviting those who suffer into Your Jubilee
We have removed seats from the table
And erected walls where there should be open doors

Please forgive us, Lord
Put salve on our eyes so we can see
Help us to be loving, joyful, peaceful,
Good, kind, patient,
Faithful, gentle, and self-controlled
We are your Beloved Community
And we belong to one another

You have said that the world would know
That we are your disciples
If we love one another.
May it be so with us.

By Afrika Afeni Mills, Faith Avenue Champion
Steele Creek, NC, US

For more information about Afrika’s antiracist work, check out her website.

Rest and Resilience in Christ

In the U.S., Black History Month is celebrated in February. It is fitting to recognize this by highlighting the ongoing work of our National Advisory Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and its leaders.

My experience of the NAE Spiritual Retreat with BIPOC Leaders

GCI’s membership in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) gave me a wonderful opportunity to engage with and grow in the ministry and message of reconciliation. In November, Toni Kim (Director of Spiritual Care) and Mekdes Haddis (Project Director for Racial Justice & Reconciliation Collaborative) hosted a spiritual retreat for the NAE at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove in Asheville, N.C. (see full article, Living United: How the NAE is Working to Build Bridges of Reconciliation).

Mekdes Haddis, Jeff Broadnax, Toni & Walter Kim

I joined three dozen Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) ministry leaders from around the country to seek Jesus’ face and discern the Spirit’s wisdom in area of racial healing, reconciliation, and resilience within the body of Christ. Large group sessions were facilitated by author and counselor, Sheila Wise Rowe. She offered a Christ-centered approach to the following topics:

    • Racial Trauma within the Body of Christ
    • Trauma Informed Ministry
    • Compassionate Soul Care and Healing
    • The Art of Peace, Joy, Rest, and Resilience

Small group breakout sessions beautifully created an environment for this diverse group to experience trust, vulnerability, and bonding in Christ. Included was time for personal and interactive reflection, prayer, biblical discussion, and chances for networking and building relationships.

I shared God’s move within GCI to develop a National Advisory Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (D.E.I.) for the U.S. Superintendent. I described the work we have done as a denomination to intentionally invite men and women from a diversity of generations, ethnicities, cultures, and perspectives to bring their journey with Jesus to the table and help us become fitly framed together for 21st century ministry in a diverse world.

Read More

Leaders Commissioned in the Philippines

On January 14, a special combined service was held in Pasay City, Philippines in honor of the commissioning and turnover ceremonies for Grace Communion International – Philippines. A total of 754 attendees were able to witness this significant event.

International leaders also came to visit, including GCI President Dr. Greg and his wife, Susan Williams, GCI Superintendent of Asia Pastor Danny and his wife, Mary Zachariah, and GCI Superintendent of Latin America Pastor Heber Ticas.

Eugene & Lulu Guzon

Dr. Eugene Guzon was shown love and support by the church members with a farewell video greeting to celebrate his 34 years of fulltime service to GCI and 21 years as the National Director for GCI Philippines. “Eugene has served the ministry since 1990 in various capacities, beginning as assistant pastor for Quezon City under Jose Raduban. His work in the national office started when he was assigned as business manager in 1993, and he became National Director in 2002. In 2007, he was also given added responsibilities as Missions Developer for China, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. He was also appointed as Superintendent for Asia in 2018 until 2023,” explained Percival Gabriel of Quezon City.

Audie & Rachel Santibanez

Pastor Audie Santibañez was then commissioned as the next National Director, and was passed the baton, or in this case, the balangay. Balangays are plank boats that were used for maritime trade and migration by ancient Filipinos. “Just as the balangay was meticulously constructed by skilled hands, without the use of nails, the church’s fresh direction is shaped by leaders firmly rooted in faith, hope, and love. Guided by the winds of the Holy Spirit, the church sails forth just as the balangay rode currents and winds across open seas,” explained Pastor Rex.

Fe & Romeo Pusta

We celebrated two other turnover ceremonies. Pastor Romeo Pusta was installed as the next chair of the Philippine Board of Directors. Pastor Aron Tolentino was commissioned as the next District Director for Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

Aron & Joyce Tolentino with daughter, Lizzie

Greg Williams said, “Susan and I enjoyed a wonderful trip to the Philippines. Eugene and Lulu Guzon have served very well, and even though they are stepping down, they are not stepping away. I am confident in Audie Santibanez as the new National Director and his National Ministry Team of Rex Dela Pena and Aron Tolentino. I am also confident in the leadership of Dan and Mary Zachariah as they oversee the churches and leaders across the Asian region. May the gospel have a tremendous impact and we see many come to Jesus.”

Let us include our leaders in our prayers for God’s continuous guidance in their service and ministry for our triune God.

Jessica with Susan & Greg Williams

By Jessica Joy Pamor, GC Pili Youth Leader
Bicol, Philippines


CoP in Asia

Left to right: Susan & Greg Williams, Heber Ticas, Dan & Mary Zachariah, Aron Tolentino, Audie Santibanez

Last month, in Manila, the Asia Community of Practice (CoP) was privileged to meet with President Greg, Susan, and Heber Ticas, Superintendent of Latin America. Presentations and discussions centred around our participation in Christ’s ministry, leadership development, and healthy church.

Greg reminded us that the harmonious flow of the triune God in the ministry of the church continually compels us to combine “great commandment living with the great commission.” Our being and doing must always go together; they complement each other, enabling the church to bring hope to the world. As always, our participation in Jesus’ ministry is never done alone. Christ has assured us, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Heber reiterated that our goal as Healthy Church is to multiply congregations and develop healthy leaders.  We are a “sent” people, as Jesus proclaimed to his disciples, “…as the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  He recommended a three-pronged approach to experience renewal as local congregations, then to be relaunched in the community, to eventually become ‘’mothering” churches, nurturing daughter churches. A healthy church thus becomes a missional church.

Left to right: Heber Ticas, Audie Santibanez, Susan Williams, Greg Williams, Rachel Santibanez, Mary Zachariah, Joyce Tolentino, Dan Zachariah, Aron Tolentino

Helpful discussions followed while answering a list of questions that were specific to the region.  The icing on the cake was the bonding activity to bake cakes in teams!  The cakes were relished by the participants and shared with the Philippine National Office. The meeting concluded with sharing in the Lord’s table, which renewed our quest to inspire our congregations to be the best expression of the church of Jesus Christ in our region.

By Dan Zachariah, Superintendent of Asia

Death of Ruth Matthews

Ruth was a true Minnesotan girl. Born Ruth Marie Bauer in St. Paul on August 5, 1951, she grew up on a small farm southwest of Minneapolis and recounted stories of walking – and riding a horse – to school in the winter snows and helping her father on their small property by forking the hay on the hay cart in summer. She was the eldest of five, with four younger brothers. That meant helping her mother look after them – and as a result the brothers nicknamed her “management.”

Her parents, Fred and Ruby, were foundation members of the Minneapolis congregation of our fellowship and ultimately were ordained deacon and deaconess. In those days, regardless of how arduous the travel was, and how short the funds were, the annual festival was not to be missed, and in the early years, their nearest site was in Big Sandy, Texas, nearly 1000 miles away.

Ruth also attended the very first year of the Summer Educational Program (SEP) of the church in Orr, northern Minnesota – a pioneering experience to test your mettle. In 1969, she was accepted to Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, and at the age of 18 saw the sea for the first time.

In the summer of 1972, she was accepted to the team of Ambassador students sent from Pasadena to work on an archeological excavation in Jerusalem at the temple mount site, in conjunction with student groups from the Texas and UK campuses of the college. This is where she met her future husband, Rod Matthews, from Australia, who was part of the contingent from the Bricket Wood campus in the UK.

Read More

Meet Octavia Walenciak

“Watching [the people I serve with] be guided into their callings by God is my favorite part…It’s exciting seeing people who were once strangers actively serving and participating together in the church and feeling like they found their people, their home away from home.”

Check out this month’s GCI Profile to get to know Octavia Walenciak, Love Avenue team member in Surrey Hills, Oklahoma. To read her full profile, click here or the image below.

From Equipper—Silence and Solitude Practice

Join us! During the weeks of Easter Preparation, we invite you to follow this spiritual practice from Equipper.

Enjoy and subscribe today!

Silence and solitude help us fully appreciate that God is always seeking us and inviting us to participate with him.

Some of us arrive at Easter Sunday without any preparation for such an extraordinary celebration – the fact that Jesus conquered death! I am guilty! Sometimes the message feels all too familiar, the songs too repetitive. I have arrived, but I am lacking heart.

How can the season of Easter Prep prepare us to worship? What if we were to use this season as a special time of preparation? Could this season open our hearts to become more enthralled, more captivated by the goodness and greatness of God?

Lent (we refer to the season as Easter Prep in GCI) is an ancient tradition adopted by Christians who wanted more than anything to follow this magnificent Jesus and participate in what he was doing in their world. That meant following him into the solitude of the desert to pray and fast as he did. Almsgiving was added in imitation of his self-giving love. Today, similar to those Christians, we also answer the call to follow Jesus.

His life had a particular rhythm of being alone with the Father to then go out and do everything the Father said. He often withdrew to solitary places (Luke 5:16). He encouraged his disciples to do the same.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:6 NIV)

Read More

Share Your Black History Celebrations

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”(Revelation 7:9-10)

“This image of heaven gives us a clue that ethnicity and culture have some sort of eternal value. Our ethnic and cultural differences reflect God’s beauty and creativity. At the same time, those saints from different backgrounds are united in their worship of God. Diversity in unity is part of God’s design for humanity. Our cultural differences should be celebrated, and our unity in Christ should be celebrated even more.” From Embracing Diversity by Dishon Mills. Read the full Equipper article here.

In the U.S., February is Black History Month. Black History Month, also known as African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. It is a time devoted to paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.

Black History Celebration, GC Fayetteville, NC, 2023

Does your congregation commemorate this diversity awareness month in a special way with your members and neighbors? If so, tell us about it!

We’d love to share your stories of Black History Month celebrations in Update! Send your story to info@gci.org.


Regional Gatherings in 2024

Registration is now open!

Please join us for a weekend of training, appreciation, and worship. Everyone is invited.

Visit our website here to register and for more information, including details about lodging.

Registration will close on May 19, 2024.

LiLY Women’s Conference

We would love to invite you to celebrate our 20th year reunion.


20th Annual LiLY Women’s Conference
April 26-28, 2024
Embassy Suites in Independence, Ohio (in person)


But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20 (NIV)

Registration Fee:
$75 / $85 – Take advantage of our early bird pricing of $75 and register by Friday, April 5, 2024. The registration fee covers the meeting facilities, speakers, conference bag filled with goodies, plus lunch and dinner on Saturday.

Registration for ages 13-17 is at a discounted rate of $50.

Online registration ends on April 14, 2024.

Hotel Reservation/Cost:

Embassy Suites, 5800 Rockside Woods Blvd. Independence, Ohio

Overnight hotel rate is $129 per night, per suite, 4-person room (total with tax is $303.15 ­­­­­­for both nights – breakfast & manager’s reception included).

Click here to make your reservation online.

Group Name: LiLY Women’s Conference

Group Code: LWC

Central Reservations Number: 1-866-344-7548

Deadline for hotel reservations at the special rate is Friday, April 5, 2024.

Register today online at gccle.church/lily

If not registering online: Mail your registration fee and make checks payable to:

Grace Communion Cleveland, 4499 Canterbury Road, North Olmsted, Ohio 44070

(Please include your name, address, phone number, emergency contact name & address, and if you are staying for Saturday night dinner)

If you have any questions, please email us at: LiLYwomensministry@gmail.com

Rosa Hulse
Women’s Ministry Leader
Grace Communion Cleveland

Like/Follow us on Facebook at LiLYWomensConference.