Beginning March 1, we will enjoy being with and getting to know Jesus through our Gospel Reading Challenge. Over the course of four weeks, read at your own pace and volume while growing closer to Jesus through the Gospels during this Easter Prep season. Click the image below for more information on the official GCI Gospel Reading Challenge Facebook group, where we will have a group discussion and share insights from our reading and meditation.
Keeping our churches together and spiritually nourished during the ongoing pandemic is a challenge for all of us, as pastors and team members in GCI.
Because we have a large and exclusive-use church facility 24/7 for our Woodbine, Georgia, congregation, we are able to keep it sanitized, and to space out our seating sufficiently, wear face coverings, take temperatures, and run an air purifier. This has enabled us to have in-person services for the past seven months, for those who wish to come. Thanks be to God, not one of our members has gotten the virus.
Even with the advantages we have in this church area, it is hard to minister to everyone as well as we would like, and as a result we know that, for some, there may be a decline in spiritual interest and motivation. We have a big job ahead of us when this is all over, to retrieve those sheep who may have wandered, and to build back up the Body of Christ, as we work alongside Jesus.
Good things still happen, though, as we have seen in Grace Communion Woodbine in January 2021. We were blessed to have two baptisms and one ordination of a church elder!
We give thanks and praise to God for the baptisms of new members, Jesse & Tabitha Hester. Tabitha grew up in a GCI church family, and early last year decided to begin attending regularly with her husband, and their four children.
Our GCI church has been a blessing to them in their spiritual growth, and they have been a blessing to us as well. Tabitha has a professional quality singing voice, and she has become one of our regular worship leaders for the congregation. And it is especially nice to have their elementary-aged children involved in our youth Sunday School class.
Since our Woodbine church’s renewal and re-launch back in December 2019, our congregation has grown from a fellowship group with an average attendance of about a dozen people for most of 2019, to an actual GCI church with an average attendance of 30, up until the pandemic.
Understandably, our attendance is down about 50% due to the absence of those members who cannot risk returning to in-person worship services for age and health considerations.
Nonetheless, we anticipate continued growth in the near future, and feel that we have been led by the Holy Spirit to appoint an additional church elder to meet the current and expected needs of the congregation.
Thus, we were able to receive approval from the GCI Home Office and our RD to ordain long-time member, Calvin Mitchell as a minister of Jesus, and assistant pastor in the congregation.
Things are getting better. And things will get better for all of us soon, I’m sure. May we as pastors, pastoral team leaders and other servants in the congregation, keep looking up and take courage in these words from one of our recent RCL scripture readings:
“Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 62:5-6, HCSB)
Marty Davey, Pastor
Grace Communion Woodbine
During this season of Epiphany, we’ve seen in our readings in Mark’s Gospel the unfolding of a primary Epiphany theme—the revealing of Jesus’ identity. In 1:1-11, Mark declares Jesus to be the Messiah, God’s Son, by offering testimonies from John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit and God the Father. In 1:12-45, Mark then offers tangible proof of Jesus’ identity in several mighty acts (signs) performed by Jesus—ones that befit God’s Messiah. The first sign involves conquering Satan in the wilderness (v. 12). This is followed by multiple signs in which Jesus conquers Satan in everyday life: driving out an evil spirit (vv. 21-18); healing Peter’s mother-in-law (vv. 29-34); and healing a leper (vv. 40-45).
In 2:1-12, Mark adds the sign of Jesus healing a paralytic. Not only does Jesus heal the man of his disability, but seeing the man’s faith declares that his sins are forgiven. To the Jewish religious authorities, this is blasphemy. Nevertheless, Jesus declares that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v.10), thus declaring himself equal with God.
To this list of messianic signs, Mark adds in 2:13-17 the calling of Levi (Matthew). Not only does Jesus cast out demons and heal sick bodies, but he also heals sick souls—even the soul of a tax collector, a person despised by Jews as traitorous, greedy, dishonest and immoral. Not only does Jesus call Levi to follow him—he has the audacity to go to dinner at Levi’s home where the guests include multiple tax collectors and assorted other sinners. To the religious authorities, Jesus has gone way too far! They ask his disciples why Jesus is behaving this way. Jesus overhears and answers by saying that just as it is expected that a doctor will associate with sick people, so it is appropriate (even necessary) for him to associate with sinners. After all, the whole purpose of his coming, in accordance with his true identity, is to call sinners to a new life with him (v. 17).
In this short, power-packed section of Mark we find multiple signs of the kingdom of God evident in Jesus’ person, words and actions. We might ask, are these signs seen in our churches? Do cheats, prostitutes and the lame flock to our churches and there find Jesus’ healing touch? Or do we react like the teachers of the law and shun such folks? Something to think about.
Our Father, today we proclaim again that Jesus is the Messiah, he is the Son of God our Savior. We are reminded of our calling to follow him—to be with him, sharing in what he is doing in his ongoing ministry of healing, restoring, blessing. We know that he is Messiah, not us, nevertheless, we are mindful that we are his disciples. Help us look to Jesus, follow where he leads, share in what he is doing in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
by Ted Johnston
Dear GCI Family and Friends,
I came across an intriguing quote that says, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear” (unknown origin)
Good organizational structures and systems accompanied with good ministry tools and practices cannot accomplish what we hope for unless we start with a spirit of humility and teachability. As the wise saying suggests, there needs to be “readiness” within the spirit of our would-be leaders. We define readiness as a stage when a person displays the willingness and capacity to receive instruction and then to engage and act in fresh, Christ-like ways.
We find both of these spirits evident in the great story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
On the heels of the martyrdom of Stephen in the early church, followers of Christ scattered from Jerusalem to avoid persecution. Philip “the evangelist” was one of those followers (he was one of the original seven deacons described in Acts 6).
Philip was directed by an angel of God (Acts 8:26) to go to Gaza, where he would encounter a eunuch from the court of the queen of Ethiopia in Africa. (This eunuch was apparently either following or at least exploring Judaism). The eunuch was returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, traveling south to his home country, Ethiopia.
The eunuch was reading from the writings of the prophet Isaiah—specifically a passage about the suffering of the promised Messiah. The eunuch did not know how to interpret what he was reading. He was a ready and willing student in need of a teacher. Philip, the able teacher and preacher, explained to him how the prophecy had been fulfilled by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who was the Messiah talked about in the ancient writings.
As they rode together in the eunuch’s chariot, they came upon a body of water, and in response to the gospel, the eunuch professed his faith in Christ, and requested Philip to baptize him. Philip obliged, and then was immediately carried away by the Holy Spirit to another location. The eunuch continued homeward rejoicing in the salvation and new life that he had received in Jesus.
This account in the book of Acts leaves us hanging regarding the rest of the eunuch’s story. It is reasonable to infer that the eunuch would have been the first to bring and share the gospel message to Ethiopia and the continent of Africa—thus, fulfilling Christ’s proclamation in Acts 1:8 for the spreading of the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world.
Why the eunuch? Why this marvelous encounter with Philip? Undoubtedly a divine appointment was at play— the angel instructing Philip to pursue the eunuch, the interaction with the scriptures and its fulfilled meaning in Jesus, the regeneration symbolized in the act of baptism, and even the Spirit redirecting Philip to his next excursion. For the eunuch, he was finally seeing something clearly for the first time, even though it had always been there; the Old Testament puzzle pieces had finally been joined to display the magnificent picture that is Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. The light came on and changed his life forever!
This Bible story is about this state of readiness. When I say “readiness,” the posture of the eunuch is a great illustration. He was open and teachable with a desire to learn. When the light came on about Jesus being the fulfillment of the prophecies, he embraced the truth and displayed his surrender and allegiance through the act of baptism.
In Paul’s correspondence to the church at Ephesus, he explains why we have teachers in the church like Philip the evangelist.
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NRSVA)
Paul wants all believers to come to the same understanding about Jesus that the eunuch displayed. It is crucial for the community of the church to have a thorough and unified knowledge of Jesus and to live out a unified faith. But get this, the journey of faith is a process of maturity—growth and movement away from childish behavior and toward Christ-likeness. In other words, toward a life overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Readiness is embracing this growth process with the assurance that the Holy Spirit is continuing a good work in us, moving us closer to and more like Jesus. This is not a clever behavioral modification program, but rather a dynamic work of the Spirit. Please understand that the Spirit is constantly at work, not just showing up in times of crisis and only working part-time hours.
My good friend and one of our Regional Directors, Anthony Mullins, gave me permission to share this story with you to emphasize the meaning I am trying to convey. Anthony, who serves as RD, local church pastor, moderator of a GCI podcast (Gospel Reverb), and coordinator of our GCI coaches, came to me and confessed that he was in a dry season and felt void of joy. Instead of enumerating the multiple circumstances and situations in his busy life that may be obstacles blocking the joy, he simply wanted me to join him in prayer to entreat the Holy Spirit to freely restore the spiritual fruit of joy to his life.
Please understand that Anthony was open to discussing his life circumstances and challenges, and quite honest about areas that needed attention and fresh responses from him. However, the inner joy that abides in a believer regardless of ups and downs was not going to come by fixing a schedule, or much worse, trying to fix other people or himself. Rather a humility that led to submission and reliance on the Spirit was the game-changer.
I see a kinship with Anthony and Philip—servants who are fully sold out for Jesus, going about their days freely sharing the good news about the Savior, and are open and receptive to the lead of the Spirit with an ever-forward trajectory of growth toward the stature and fullness of Jesus.
Growing with Jesus and aspiring to be more like him day by day!
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.
James Newby, Pastor
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!
“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
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
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
Regional Director, Eastern USA