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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.
Superintendent of Europe
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
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.
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
You Are Loved!
As I was sitting watching virus updates the other day with my wife, I heard a lot of horns blowing outside our front door. It was a bit disturbing, so my wife and I looked out the window with concern, thinking something was wrong. To our delight, we witnessed a very touching sight. There were seven cars that were driving through the neighborhood. Each car was decorated with signage and other decorations. The signs had messages such as we love you, we miss you and we can’t wait to be with you again. These were teachers and faculty from the local school district who took a moment of their lives during this dark time we are facing to share a message of love to their students and their parents.
It put joy in my heart to see that moment of goodness in humanity in the face of the ugly side of recent happenings in our world. These teachers and faculty members showed many people in the neighborhood a great example of what giving someone a moment of light in the darkness looks like. I truly believe that moment will impact the little girl who was outside with her mom learning to ride a bike and watched this caravan go by. What I learned from this is that we never know how what we do will impact the life of another, but we must be mindful of what we do when the opportunity presents itself. Do we ignore the moment, or do we engage with the Holy Spirit in that moment he shows us the opportunity to love others as we love ourselves?
The dark times that humanity faces have a tendency to keep us in realms of fear and doubt. However, when our Incarnate Lord Jesus came to us, he did the same thing these teachers did, albeit in a more impactful way for all humanity. Watching these teachers declare their love and dedication to these students in the midst of something where these young people probably don’t fully grasp the magnitude of the danger at hand reminded me to look to Jesus as he declares his love and dedication to us. Isaiah 63 captures this story of love and restoration from dark times very well. How beautiful it will be when these students and teachers are reunited in the fullness of the relationship they share, just as we anxiously await the reunion with Jesus realized in the fullness of the relationship he desires with us into eternity. Thank you, teachers of the world, for your love and dedication, and thank you, Lord Jesus, for your love and dedication to all humanity.
Stay safe, blessed and loved!
Living Grace Fellowship (GCI)
Kansas City, MO
Having a church family means we don’t have to be isolated even at this unprecedented time. We refuse to buy into fear and anxiety. How? By staying connected to Jesus and each other.
Grace Communion Richardson (Texas) has been using this time of “social distancing” to move ahead on several communication projects to help with this. We phoned each member to check in, and at the same time we updated their contact information and communication preferences in our Planning Center (http://planningcenter.com) system. In the coming weeks we’ll be using Text In Church (http://textinchurch.com), which syncs with Planning Center, to encourage our members. Previously we’d used it only to connect with visitors. We’ll also produce an updated member directory to help members keep in touch with each other more easily.
Checking in with members revealed several needs. A couple of people didn’t have internet access; another member helped them hear the live-streamed service through the telephone. A few others had run out of toilet paper and paper towels and couldn’t find any in stores; other members delivered the items the next day. We’re using our member’s Facebook page to share needs like this as we discover them.
Christine Ojih and Nadine Santibanez are making face masks and encouraging others to do so to provide to neighborhood hospitals. A nurse friend in one of our hospitals shared how the shortages are even beginning to impact availability for the kiddos in the children’s cancer ward.
Like many churches, we immediately moved our services online using Facebook Live. After the first Sunday, we started using OBS (http://obsproject.com) software to produce a more professional broadcast. Member Barry Ford, who runs the company Future Broadcast, (http://www.futurebroadcast.biz) used his professional skills to take live performances from several praise team members recorded in their homes to produce combined worship videos, which we added to the livestream.
The livestreams have been well received and had hundreds of views from members and those outside the church. One watch party drew viewers from all over the world. This is one way we can share the hope we have in Christ in this time of uncertainty. We believe we are attracting attention from people who do not regularly attend church or yet have a relationship with Jesus.
Like many GCI congregations, we have a high number of seniors who fall in the most vulnerable category of the virus. Please pray for continued protection and peace for all seniors around the globe.
Please pray that this crisis will point many people to Jesus, our constant source of hope, especially in times of trouble.
In his peace and hope,
Pastor Gabriel and Christine Ojih
This month the GCI Media Team opened the GCI Creative Community group on Facebook. This group is a connecting point and resourcing space for GCI Creatives. This includes multimedia team members, Hope Venue Champions, worship team members, pastors, and anyone else who serves in their GCI congregation. We serve one another by creating a safe space to share ideas, give feedback, and discuss best practices, all while having fun and expressing our God-given creativity!
This group was born out of a desire to support, connect with, and learn from fellow GCI creatives. We want to support you, our community, with the tools you need for successful creative ministry and alignment across our fellowship. If you are a GCI creative and would like to join the group, please click here. There are 4 steps to complete before pressing “submit.” To best serve you and create a safe space, please answer all three questions, and read and agree to the guidelines, before clicking “submit.” Thank you!