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Amphibious Christians

The following is from an article titled, “Amphibious Christians Make the Best Contemporary Evangelists” by Anglican Bishop and professor Todd Hunter, published online in the Alpha Library. It is shared with us by Jim and Becky Valekis who serve the GCI congregation in Tipp City, OH. Jim is senior pastor and Becky coordinates discipleship ministries. They have successfully used the Alpha Course for discipling seekers and believers.

To be amphibious means to have the ability to combine two characteristics. Think of animals that are equally comfortable in and out of water, for example. Amphibious Christians are well suited to evangelism today because helping a friend come to faith requires the ability to dive into that friend’s world, to closely interact with a co-worker or neighbor, to engage in honest and deep conversation without losing all values, truth, faith, confidence, etc. Such people have the capacity to live uncompromising lives in harmony with both churched and non-churched colleagues. They are able to live at ease in two worlds. They peacefully follow the incarnational model of Jesus who was in the world, but not of it. Jesus was able to be a fully participatory member of his community. It was precisely within the routines of his normal human life that he “only did and spoke as the Father directed” (John 5).

Jesus invites us into exactly that same kind of life… His invitation is that we, through the direction and power of the Holy Spirit, would live our normal lives as he would live them if he were in our place…. Here is a Jesus-centered, Spirit-enabled vision for effective, peace-filled contemporary evangelism through amphibious living. Jesus said:

The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).

…Jesus is inviting his followers into the very intimacies of the Trinity. He is willing to show anyone willing to learn how to live Father-child amphibious living—the way he did it. He says such a life can be lived in “the rhythms of grace.” This means such a life does not need to be forced, over-religious, striving. In fact, he says such a life is free and light. It is the good life.

“Todd”, you may say, “this is all cool, but connect the dots to evangelism.” Okay, here is how they connect: seekers crave people who can meet them on their terms. It takes truly amphibious Christians to do that. Seekers want to see that our relationship to God “works”… They know life stinks around most of the world for various reasons. They don’t just have in mind systemic evil like poverty, gender inequality and global destruction. They are thinking of their unjust boss, unloving kids and unfaithful spouse. They want to find a way to do life. They are searching for a Master to follow for life. They suspect that if there is a God as we say that he might have the keys to “the good life.” We of course say: “Yes! He does. They are the keys to the Kingdom and they have been given to all who trust and follow Jesus.”

Amphibious, authentic, generously-spirited Christians…are really refreshing and hope-giving to seekers.

Children’s Closet ministry

The following report is from GCI member Mary Fozard:

With our nation facing a weak economy, churches wonder what they can do to help. Despite being small, aging and short on funds, New Beginnings, the GCI congregation in Hickory, N.C found a way – it’s a ministry they have named Children’s Closet.

It began in early October with a large yard and bake sale. The proceeds were used to purchase initial supplies. Now, one Saturday a month, they open their church doors from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and provide free children’s clothing for ages 0 to 12, and free baby diapers and baby products. The same day, they also hold a small yard and bake sale. The proceeds are used to purchase more clothing and diapers to distribute. All clothing offered is high quality, without stains or defects. It is laid out neatly according to size in a small, but brightly decorated room set aside for that purpose. Tables are also set up in the sanctuary where better quality clothing is sold for a small donation.

A small play area with toys is provided for children who come with their families. On their opening Saturday (November 5), they saw one family with five children returning for the second time to receive free clothing. Some who drop in for the yard sale are very generous and offer to pay more than what the yard sale item is worth. One man bought a coffee mug for 25 cents and gave $20.00, telling us to use the rest to buy baby diapers. Another retired grandfather on a fixed income was happy to get a few cute baby pajamas for his grandson for 75 cents. When one of our church members told her sister about Children’s Closet, her sister sent a donation of $50 to help even though she is a member of another denomination.

Since non-food items cannot be purchased with food stamps, the congregation also set up a Household Pantry Prize table with about $100 worth of personal need items like shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Also included are household cleaning items like laundry detergent, soap pads, and dishwashing liquid. Paper products like bath tissue, wax paper, Kleenex, plastic wrap, garbage bags and paper towels are also available. Every family who makes a small donation for clothing, yard sale items, or bake sale items is eligible to draw from the prize drawing box and win one or several items on the table. These products are donated by church members and are greatly appreciated by those who receive them.

Feedback from families coming has been quite favorable and some have begun to inquire about the congregation’s church services. Brochures about the congregation are given to those who visit Children’s Closet. They also put an announcement about the ministry on the sign outside the building.The day it is open, they set out many little signs with balloons to attract attention. Once people come in and see what Children’s Closet has to offer, they tell their friends and relatives. Free advertising!

The congregation used to wonder if anyone in the community noticed their presence. Now, when people drive by, some are saying, “That’s the church that gives out free children’s clothing and free baby diapers. Now that’s a church that cares!”


For information about Children’s Closet you may contact New Beginnings pastor Paul David Kurts at paul.d.kurts@gci.org.

Odyssey In Christ Retreat

From October 27-30, 17 people gathered for the first Odyssey in Christ spiritual formation retreat at the Pine Lake Retreat Center in Groveland, FL. After many years of personal experience, study and research in the area of spiritual formation retreats, GCI district pastor Larry Hinkle designed a retreat to help pastors and ministry leaders experience spiritual refreshment and ministry empowerment.

Retreat participants
Carmen Fleming presenting

Larry, along with Charles and Carmen Fleming, led the retreat, presenting spiritual formation exercises that helped participants listen and respond to God’s direction in their lives. Dr. Ross Jutsum served as music director; and Beotis Williams, Kitty Hildreth and Harriet Robinson assisted as “retreat angels.”

When asked why they attended, participants noted a desire for a special encounter with the Lord, to experience personal spiritual growth and to have a closer walk with God. All agreed that the retreat provided far more than they were expecting. Several expressed interest in participating again.

Charles Fleming, GCI’s Missions director for the Caribbean, submitted the following evaluation:

The retreat offers hands-on experience in some of the spiritual formation exercises that have been a vital part of the Christian experience over the centuries. Larry has done a remarkable job in researching those practices and contextualizing them to our GCI culture, as we seek to participate more fully in the life of the Triune God. Some of the theologians Larry consulted have expressed great appreciation for his work. For example, Baxter Kruger mentioned that the Holy Spirit’s fingerprints are all over it. The program is explicitly Trinitarian and promotes a life rhythm of rest and work that should stand our pastors in good stead. There is something for the new intern, for the veteran who might be struggling with burnout, for the pastor seeking a new vision for his congregation, for the church planter preparing his team for the challenges ahead, and for the pastor and his team whose church is moving more deeply into mission and outreach. I pray that Larry’s dream of not only offering a weekend experience, but also mentoring dozens of pastors to become spiritual directors will become a reality. My imagination is fired by the thought of what kind of life and mission that would flourish if this kind of intensive formational experience could be offered to our membership as well.

Planning is underway for future Odyssey in Christ retreats in various parts of the United States. Participants who are GCI pastors in the U.S. earn four continuing education units in GCI’s Pastoral Continuing Education Program. To learn more about the retreat, visit OdysseyinChrist.com.

Big Sandy revisited

The following report is from John Halford.

Pastor Sonny Parsons

When Ambassador University in Big Sandy closed its doors in 1997, the local people might have thought they had seen the last of our church. Only a small congregation continued to meet in the area, pastored from neighboring Longview.

Then in 2002, Sonny Parsons and his wife Jane asked to be transferred back to Big Sandy. They had worked on the campus, and wanted to make Big Sandy their home. They decided that the church would once again become a presence in this rural Texas community. Not as a beautiful, but perhaps rather mysterious, college on the outskirts of town, but as a lively church that would be a blessing and a light to the local community. So they bought a building in the middle of town, renamed the congregation “New Beginnings” – and began again.

Last weekend they held their annual Fun n’ Fall festival day, in which they invite everyone who lives in this small Texas town to enjoy a day of free fun and entertainment. Sonny had invited me to come as guest speaker. Saturday October 29 was a beautiful day, unseasonably warm, with clear blue skies. The church members had been preparing for several weeks, and some were on site at 3:00 AM preparing.

The day began with an “all you can eat” breakfast of waffles and sausage – then followed several hours of fun. There were face painting and games for the children, and competitions, free hot dogs and drinks for all.

Several tables were set up, laden with surplus clothing, free for the taking for any in need. A highlight was the BSKCAR (Big Sandy Kids) car races, in which children (and some adults) tried their skills in some gravity fueled Go-karts. White Chocolate, a praise band from neighboring Longview donated their talent to provide several hours of live music.

Over 500 people, or about one half of the town and surrounding community came to enjoy the day with us. Especially noticeable was the number of teens and young people. These were not just day visitors, taking advantage of some free food and entertainment. Sonny explained that whereas the regular Sunday service usually had around 55 mainly older people, a Wednesday night Teen Bible Study often had as many as 60 young people show up regularly.

The Big Sandy members have determined to make their church a benefit to the community. They allow responsible groups to use the facilities free of charge, and something seems to be happening every day of the week. The local Rotary Club holds their meetings there.

From the moment he arrived, Sonny Parsons became involved in the community. He served for two years as mayor, and has twice been selected as Big Sandy’s Man of the Year. He has also been president of the Ministerial Alliance. As a qualified paramedic, he continues to play a leading role in the local Emergency Response Team.

Melven Allen on the Go Kart at right
Ivirne Allen

When the University closed, many of the employees remained in the local area. I was able to meet up with some of my old friends and colleagues, some of whom I had not seen for many years. They are older now, and some are retired, but they still play an active part in church life.

Melven Allen once managed the Ambassador College Transportation Department. Now he supervised another fleet – of Go Karts for the downhill race. Mel’s wife Ivirne was dispensing frozen yogurt from the venerable machine that had once been a popular feature of the old SEP camp at Orr. Glenn Roberson, renowned at SEP Orr for his culinary and baking skills was still at work grilling hot dogs, assisted by veteran pastor Kelly Barfield. Another retired pastor, 84-year-old Ken Swisher, who was instrumental in starting the College, was visiting for the day. Dr. Bill Stenger, formerly registrar of Pasadena and Big Sandy, lives nearby, and is a regular speaker in the surrounding congregations. Rick Peterson (of Young Ambassadors fame) and his wife Lois (Weber) Peterson and their family are active in promoting teen activities. Lee Pettijohn, who was chief engineer for the Television Department, and his wife Vivian have built their dream retirement by the railroad. Not everyone’s dream location, perhaps, but the Petttijohns are railroad buffs and enjoy sitting on their front porch watching several dozen freight trains rumble by every day.

For some of us, visiting Big Sandy is inevitably a nostalgia trip, but a very positive one. Rather than dwell on the past, the Big Sandy congregation decided to become a bright, active part of the local community. One theme emerged as I talked with old friends and colleagues. The past is the past, what has gone is gone. It was fun and rewarding while it lasted, and we built many good memories and relationships that will last a lifetime – and beyond.

However, we agreed, if only we had known then what we know now.

New church launched in L.A.

A recent report in GCI Weekly Update told of the work of our San Fernando, CA church in starting a new satellite congregation that meets in Los Angeles. We are pleased to report that this new Spanish-speaking congregation held its grand opening worship service on October 23. Here is a report from pastor and church planter Heber Ticas, with additional comments from regional pastor Lorenzo Arroyo.

From Heber Ticas:

I have been working over the past couple of years to put together a church planting team and plant a satellite church of my San Fernando congregation in the northeast area of Los Angeles. God has been faithful! This past Sunday [October 23] we held our grand opening. There were 165 people in attendance, including 63 from the mother church in San Fernando (helping provide the critical mass needed), Regional Pastor Lorenzo Arroyo (my coach), and Pastor Manuel Ochoa. The rest of the attendees were people from the community, and friends and family of the church plant team. We were amazed and surprised to see this many people coming as the result of our community outreach efforts. On the two Saturdays prior to the event, the team went out to nearby North Broadway Street and gave out roughly 800 free water bottles with a flyer inviting the community to the grand opening.

Our church plant team has grown to nine committed families, including my wife and myself, four that were recruited from outside of my congregation and the other five from within my church. They all show an intense enthusiasm for what the Lord is doing in our midst. We continue to push forward to live out the mission and stay true to our ministry process of connecting people to Christ, to one another and to his mission. We are looking to accomplish this as we continue to expand small groups, move believers to workers and continue to do missional outreach.

Your prayers are solicited and needed. We also ask you to pray that the Lord will provide the financial support that we need to sustain the ministry. We need to raise about $15,000 in the next six months to put us in a good position over the next 12 months. That is with everyone in the plant team graciously donating their time and resources for the kingdom. Thank you for all of your support and encouragement. We pray that God continues to bless us as we move forward and start planting the seed within the team, my district pastoral network and our Southern California church planting network for a third campus in the next three years.

From Lorenzo Arroyo:

GCI pastor Manuel Ochoa and I arrived about 4:45 PM (15 minutes prior to the service). We had to navigate the city streets and surprisingly found a parking spot in front of the church building. After exchanging greetings with Heber and a few of the leaders on the street, who looked somewhat nervous, we decided to go in and hopefully find a couple of seats. It was about 5:00. In a sanctuary built for 150 to our shock there were not even 30 people present! Manuel and I took a couple of seats in the back and began praying. We thought, what if this is all there is? But again, this is a Hispanic community and our clocks often run on a different time zone. People began arriving, at first just a trickle – but as the band began playing, waves began to arrive and settle in their seats. By the time the service was in full swing (about 5:30) the place was packed from front to back and wall to wall. Praise God! It was just AWESOME!

The music was upbeat and the attendees were jubilant. The sermon was inspiring and relevant to the needs of folks often trapped in city life. To hear of Jesus was liberating. Some 30 people responded to the altar call. It is truly a joy to witness the movement of the Spirit. Heber and his team put a lot of effort into making the launch the success it was. Even the day before, they were handing out water bottles and flyers, which brought a dozen or more new folks to the launch service in that one effort alone. They also are multiplying cell groups to accommodate new contacts they have made as well as sending cards, making calls and visiting homes. A new daughter has arrived. Praise God!

Family camp

Tori Emerson submitted this report about Generations Ministries’ NW Connections Family Camp.

Despite an unseasonably rainy and cool summer in the Pacific Northwest, God blessed us with a sunny and warm weekend for the NW Connections Family Camp weekend, held at Schafer State Park near Elma, WA.

We had new friends and old join us this year. Some traveled from Oregon and northern Washington. Many are already planning to return next year and bring friends with them. The camp lived up to its name: Connections!

Our campsite was set apart from the rest of the campground, allowing us privacy and the opportunity to run freely. We enjoyed softball, volleyball, boating, fishing, swimming, sitting together in fellowship and meals cooked over the campfire (including an impromptu smorgasbord brunch on Sunday). We greatly enjoyed our morning devotional times. To sit in the sunshine with over 20 people each morning to pray and participate in an interactive discussion about Christ was wonderfully peaceful and enjoyable!

Overall, it was a wonderful, relaxing, fun and energetic (if you wanted it to be) camp.


Evangelism: simple

We sometimes make evangelism more complicated than it is. For simple ways to engage your congregation in God’s work of evangelism, click here. Note also the following story told by Brian Allen, executive director of the Joliet, IL Christian Youth Center (thanks to GCI pastor and church planter James Newby for submitting the story).

Social services officials showed up the other night at our neighbor’s home to take away her kids. Apparently, this single mom was considered unfit and the father wanted his two kids back. In spite of known problems in the home, our heart went out to this mom. The situation lay particularly heavy on my wife Carla’s heart, and she rose to action a few days later upon noticing Lisa (not her real name) in her garage. Carla walked over to offer support but noticed Lisa on the phone. Not wanting to interrupt, nor to miss an opportunity, my wife wrote a note of support and left it with her.

Within moments, Lisa was at our door seeking Carla. Together they went over to Lisa’s house, and my wife listened to Lisa’s heart, trouble and pain. For a couple of hours she heard about a life that was broken and feeling hopeless. So hopeless that after losing her kids she was contemplating suicide. Carla listened and offered support and encouragement, as well as a relationship. Though Lisa’s pain and sorrow remain, she was comforted in the fact that someone genuinely cares about her.

After a prayer, my wife was heading out the door to leave when Lisa asked, “Why did you stop by with the note?” Carla looked at her and said, “because you are child of God, and he loves you very much, and so do I.” Lisa leaped into my wife’s arms in embrace, and in tears thanked her for coming over.

After 25 years of ministry, I still am amazed at how complicated we Christians have made evangelism and how “over-decorated” we have made the gospel. A life won’t be transformed, nor will a neighborhood, nor will the world, unless light walks into darkness and says, “The God of the universe loves you, and so do I.”


Mission trip in Africa

In September, missionaries from Grace Missions of U.S. Generations Ministries led a two-week mission trip to the southern part of Africa. The trip was a follow up to a trip held last year to help the GCI church in Moruleng, South Africa install a septic system at their new church building. On that trip, the team developed friendships with local GCI members who expressed interest in conducting a mission trip of their own. The team agreed to help and the trip this fall resulted. Following are reports from team members. For additional pictures go to http://www.facebook.com/pages/Grace-Missions/234443013258723.

From Joel Clevenger:

Joel Clevenger second from left

Four of us from NE Ohio joined four members from the GCI church in Moruleng, South Africa for this mission trip to Gaborone, Botswana. While there we met the family of a longtime member who had just passed away after a long battle with cancer. We were able to help repair the roof on their home, but the relationships built were the greatest work. People there are making plans for a mission trip next year that will include many people from South Africa as well as from Botswana. Our goal in Grace Missions is to teach others to lead mission trips as well as to be active in their communities in participating in mission with Jesus.

From Lynne Botha:

Lynne Botha at left

Why did we go halfway round the world to serve when there are many here in need? Obedience. Trust. Love. Obstacles in the way (like lack of funds) seemed insurmountable, but the Lord carried us through. Fears were faced, doubts conquered. Personal growth amplified. Friendships and relationships forged for life. We helped many people, but I feel the greatest impact was to join with Jesus as he said to one particular person: “I see you. I know your need, and I sent these people to tell you that I care.” Yup. That’s it. Are there needs at home? Oh yeah, and now we’re better equipped to listen to the Lord, to trust him, to reach out in his name and make a difference for his sake here at home.

From Pat Shiels:

Pat Shiels second from right

It became clear that my job in Grace Missions is to extend God’s love and encouragement to new or struggling congregations around the world. Many of the people whose lives we affect say that they want to do the same thing for others – disciples making disciples – an ever-widening circle. I am deeply struck by the strong heart connection that I felt this year in Botswana, as well as last year in South Africa. Fortunately the work that God has required of me has not needed a young, strong body or construction skills, just an ability to love and serve the people I meet.

From Gary Schrimpf:

Gary Schrimpf

During this trip I visited two churches. One is a fairly new church located in Namibia. It is currently unaffiliated, but interested in joining GCI. This church is full of excited, energetic people striving to find their way. The other church is a long established GCI congregation that is dwindling in numbers. We prayed for both churches and I hope encouraged them and pointed them toward the Lord. We also had contact with a third African church – the one that joined us on this mission trip. They were recipients of our work last year and this year served other African churches with us. In these ways, the Lord allowed us to minister with him – making connections and building relationships that will permeate through the churches that we served. Short-term missions are great tools for building expanding circles of mission that are centered more on relationships than on projects.