A Small but Important Beginning
Next week, Sunday May 7, we will be hosting guests from the Saddle Lake Reservation. One of them, Alsena White, will share her story about surviving the residential school system. After her talk, we will converse with her a bit, share a dessert together, and be invited to view a display of First Nations Art.
Why are we doing this? It is our attempt to address the need for reconciliation that exists between Canada’s First Nations peoples and the country’s citizens of non-native descent. Admittedly it is a very small step, but I believe it will be a very real and healing step, nonetheless.
Our planning for this event started about 18 months ago. At the urging our regional body of churches (which was responding to our nation’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission) our church made a commitment to host a reconciliation evening. However, we did not want the event to be merely symbolic (an apology to no one in particular); rather, we wanted to engage real people in a real conversation.
We approached the people of Saddle Lake because we have already begun a relationship with them. We support Philip Lee who is a highly respected business person there and who runs programs for youth on the reservation. Also, the Bethel youth, and later a group of adults from Bethel, visited Saddle Lake to meet the people there and to pray for the reservation. Both the youth and adult visitors toured the residential school and heard Alsena White’s story.
My hope is that Alsena and the small group that will join her that evening will feel respected and heard, that they will sense how genuinely we are interested in them, and that they will want our friendship to continue and to grow. I hope that some of the impressions they hold of the Christian church, which was directly involved in the residential school system, will be softened, and that barriers to their hearing to the Gospel will be removed.
Those of us who heard Alsena’s story were deeply moved. I think you will be too. The evening starts at 6:30 pm and will be over between 8:30 and 9:00 pm. –Pastor Tom
One of the signs of a healthy church is the presence of a vibrant youth ministry. In the midst of a culture that lures many young people away from faith and church community, it is essential to invest in seeing our young people grow up strong in Jesus Christ.
One man who has made a significant difference in Northern Alberta Youth Ministries the last ten years is Ron DeVries. When I was a new youth pastor, Ron was there to encourage, equip, and mentor along the way. For the past four years, Ron has coached Melanie Reynders much along the same lines. I want to share the exciting next steps in Ron’s ministry.
Ron DeVries has left his role as the Classis Alberta North Youth Ministry Consultant and is now heading up Youth Ministries in the whole Christian Reformed Church, both in Canada and the United States. In addition to this, he will be coordinating the SERVE wing of the Youth Unlimited in Canada.
Ron has already been an essential part of shaping the Canadian conversation about youth ministry, and through strategic planning, Classes across Canada have seen growth in youth ministry as a result.
I am thankful for the significant contribution that Ron has made to Bethel Church indirectly. Please join me in praying for this man as he moves into a new role and greater influence in the church.
I would like to share a true story with you. I first read about this Easter story in the Focus on the Family magazine. It still has the power to move me.
There was boy named Jeremy who was severely mentally and physically challenged. At aged 12 he was still in grade two. His teacher Doris Miller was exasperated with Jeremy. He would squirm in his seat, drool, make grunting noises, and at times simply stare blankly at her. With no one in the classroom to help her, she was exhausted trying to attend to Jeremy’s needs while teaching 18 other students.
Spring time came and Ms. Miller told her class about Easter, explaining the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. She gave each of her students a plastic egg and told them to bring it back the next day with something in it that showed new life.
The next morning, when it came time to open the eggs, she disclosed the secret of each, taking time to explain each child’s creative expression of new life. There was a flower, a butterfly, a rock with moss on it, and many other imaginative items.
When she opened Jeremy’s egg she found that it was empty. She realized with distress that she had not called his parents to explain the assignment, and she figured that he had not understood the aim of the lesson. Not wanting to embarrass him she quickly laid his egg aside and went on. Jeremy spoke up, “Ms. Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?” She said: “But Jeremy—your egg is empty!”
Jeremy replied softly, “Yes, but Jesus’ tomb was empty too!” Time stopped for his teacher. She became choked up and could not speak. When she was finally able to do so, she asked, “Jeremy, do you know why the tomb was empty?” “Oh yes!” he said, “Jesus was killed and put in there. Then his Father raised Him up!”
The school bell rang. The children went out for recess to play on the school grounds, and Doris cried. The anger and resentment she had felt for toward Jeremy over the school year melted away. Three months later, Jeremy died. Those who came to pay their respects at the funeral were surprised to see 19 eggs on top of his casket—all of them empty.
I think the reason this story moves me so much is that it makes me think of a future day when the new heavens and earth will have arrived. Twisted bodies like Jeremy’s will be restored. And all who have put their trust in Jesus will be united with Him. All this is possible because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is why we celebrate! –Pastor Tom
A GREAT START TO AN EXCITING FUTURE
Sixteen of Bethel’s founding members met together last Wednesday. It was a celebration of sorts—the first such gathering in nearly 40 years. The Church Renewal Labs Team initiated the effort because we wanted to hear the group talk about the dream that launched Bethel Church and about our history. We also wanted to see if this group thinks we are tracking with God’s plan for us today.
Here are some of the highlights from what was shared:
· The handful of people who agreed to leave Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in 1979 to start Bethel began by renting space at Highlands United Church. They were a hardworking, tightknit community.
· After being together for 11 years, the group voted on a motion to build their own building. The motion failed the first time around. Only 74% of the membership voted in favor—one vote short of the required 75% majority. However, a discrepancy was noted in the tallying, and a new vote was taken. The second time around, the “yes” vote tipped the scale, coming in with a 76% majority.
· The building plan went ahead, and God blessed that step of faith in ways nobody could have imagined. At the time of the vote the membership had plateaued—it may even have been declining—but when the group agreed to move forward, the church started to grow. Look around you at the numbers we have today, and you can see the fruit that came from that initial faith-step.
· Bethel has changed with the times. Bethel Christian Reformed Church became Bethel Community Church, and traditional worship services featuring music accompanied by a pipe organ gave way to contemporary music led by praise bands.
· When they built the church building the group was motivated by a mission. They wanted to touch their Bannerman neighbours with the love of Christ. God has blessed their dream in wonderful ways. Today, Bethel is shining Christ’s light in Bannerman and is recognized as a strong and caring community partner.
Two things especially impressed me about this meeting. First, I was struck by the level of sacrifice these original members made to get our church off the ground. Everyone wore several hats. No amount of sacrifice was too great to help the new church thrive.
Second, it is apparent that the dynamism that launched Bethel Church remains strong. Someone said, “We have grown to be a big church hosting many activities. Maybe it is time for a new group from Bethel to step out in faith and start a new church as we did!”
I think the Holy Spirit may be speaking to us through these visionary pioneers. Over the next year our congregation we will be considering the very proposal that was made at this meeting. Is it time for us to take a fresh step of faith and plant a new church?—Pastor Tom
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