As you are reading this, I should be either just ending my visit to the Holy Land or transitioning to life in Edmonton, again; however, I wanted to share some exciting news with you. The Pastor’s Corner this week really appears in the May 25 issue of the Christian Courier and in the June issue of our denominational magazine, The Banner. Let me explain:
At the congregational meeting that took place over a year ago, when I shared Hawa Lendein’s heroic story of faith, and when we launched the dream of building a school in the village of Bettesue, a member of the congregation approached me and said, “Someone should write up this story for publication in The Banner.” To be honest, I was initially underwhelmed by the suggestion. I thought: “That ‘someone’ would probably be me, and the project sounds like a lot of work!”
Eventually though, sensing the nudge of the Holy Spirit, I did write the story. The Christian Courier, based in Ontario, liked it and said they wanted to release the story around the time of Pentecost. The Banner choose not to run the full story, but put a reporter in touch with me and said they would write a shorter account in the news section of the magazine at about the same time.
By carrying this story, both of these publications are acknowledging that God did something newsworthy at Bethel Church. It is good for us to pause and be reminded again about how God worked so powerfully among us. A copy of the Courier article has been placed your mail slot at church. You can access it online at http://www.christiancourier.ca/features/entry/joining-gods-spirit-in-global-mission. Extra copies of the Courier article are on the Information Centre in the foyer at the back of the worship space.
Pastor Tom is in the Middle East. In his absence, Dan VanKeeken, a senior leader at The King's University and a member of Bethel for almost 30 years, has been invited to write the Pastor’s Corner for this week. Dan reflects on his experience on a mission trip in Cuba recently as the representative for the Christian Reformed Churches of our region.
I saw the old guitar on a shelf on the second floor of the tiny Christian Reformed Church in downtown Havana. So I picked it up and started strumming, then quietly singing one of my favorites that we sing at Bethel: Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord. Suddenly I heard other voices, English and Spanish, singing along. I looked up and the dozen other people in the room who had been talking of other things - people from Alberta and Toronto and Grand Rapids and Minnesota and Havana and Jaguey Grande, Cuba - we were all praising God and singing, To see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory.
And the eyes of my heart were opened. God's presence was real in that upper room, in that tiny store-front church that might fit 80 people if some of them were standing, not two blocks from the Cuban capital buildings, in a restrictive, controlled environment among His people here in this communist country. It was just one of many "God is real - God is here" moments in a frenzied week of meetings and visits at many of the 14 urban and rural Christian Reformed churches in small towns and villages not two hours from the tourist beaches of Varadero. The faithfulness of the several thousand CRC members in Cuba was inspiring and humbling: boldly preaching the gospel and worshiping, feeding seniors five days a week, planting house churches, reaching out to youth through music, making do with so much less than we have, riding ancient beat-up bicycles and living humbly in small houses, and food ration cards that run out mid-month.
Yet there is a revival happening in Cuba. Two million of its 11 million inhabitants are professing Christians as members of dozens of different denominations. And they've softened their government's heart toward them because of all the terrific social (diaconal) work they do, without any government support and by simply tithing from their meager $18 per month salaries (400 of their non-tourist pesos) and getting involved personally in Kingdom work. They treasure their relationships with the people and CRC churches of Alberta, relationships we've had since the early 1990’s. And they rely on what goods and money we can send, and other fellow believers from the U.S., from The Netherlands, from Brazil. We hope to fly three of their pastors to Alberta to visit us this fall.
Keep God's people in Cuba in your hearts and prayers - it means so much to them to know they are not forgotten or as isolated as their government tries to keep them. And thank you for the over $4,000 that was raised here at Bethel to replace a condemned, falling down pastor's home in one of the towns (total project $30K). Later this year we'll be sending an entire container of badly needed medical supplies, bicycles, wheel chairs etc. to our brothers and sisters in Cuba. More on that to come.
As the song concludes, and as our prayer for Cuba: Pour out your power and love, as we sing holy, holy, holy.
Roughly two years ago a World Missions Team was formed at Bethel Church.
In the time since, the team has put serious prayer and thought into Bethel’s long-term World Missions strategy. Bethel has strengthened relationships with new and existing missionaries. In addition to this, missionary support has been bolstered and restructured (more on this in a Pastor’s Corner coming in June).
An exciting development this year has been the emergence of an exploratory team going to Nicarauga and El Salvador May 21 to June 1. The team includes Josh Mackintosh, Line Des Rosier, Royce Boskers and will be led by Shelly Billiald. They will go to discern how Bethel can be the biggest blessing (and be the most blessed) through future partnership with Christian Reformed World Missions in the region.
The team’s goals are to:
- Bless and be blessed through the continuing development of a partnering relationship with those Bethel supports in Nicaragua and El Salvador (Rachel Beveridge, Ezra Team, Nehemiah Center, Seeds of New Creation),
- Spend time determining how Bethel can facilitate common goals to serve each other equally in community, including continuing to build a strong and nurturing relationship with our missionaries,
- Assess missionary support by meeting with each team to pray and discuss their short term and long term requirements,
- Determine the size and type of teams that both locations are able to host as well as assessing the practicality of sending teams to these locations,
- Evaluate the long-term plan for Bethel missions.
On Sunday May 17 we will commission this team and send them out together. Please pray through these goals and ask the Spirit of God to speak clearly to this exploratory team.
We dream of a day when Bethel will send out inter-generational teams to these countries. Is God stirring in your heart a passion for World Missions?
I didn't intend to write about the Gems Girl’s Club in this week’s Pastors Corner. It was a chance encounter with head counselor Viola Dueck in the new wing of the church that made me believe I needed to do so. We pray earnestly for God’s Spirit to move in our church. What happened at the Gem’s retreat held this past weekend is clearly an instance of that—what some people call a “God-sighting.”
There are 26 Gem’s girls in the program: 13 from the church and 13 from the community. All 26 girls signed up to spend the weekend together—that, in itself, suggests something extraordinary is going on in the program. When circumstances prevented one of the girls who had signed-up from attending, the sister of another Gem pleaded to be allowed to come, thus making up the full complement.
Girls from the church and community enjoyed one another’s company, while worshiping and playing in an atmosphere of full acceptance of one another. Viola says her personal highlight occurred when all the girls broke into groups and took turns performing skits. There was such a sense of belonging at the retreat that one of the girls who does not currently profess faith in Christ, nonetheless played the part of Jesus! A frequent theme in the plays was the need to show kindness, love, and consideration to others. The girls are clearly taking the program’s message to heart!
I was deeply impressed by how Viola and the other counsellors deal so sensitively with girls from non-believing backgrounds. They share the Good News and enfold the girls with the love of Jesus. They respect where they are coming from—even when that involves religious scruples—inviting them to know Christ without coercing them. All the while, the counselors pray that all of these girls will come to know that Love that is like no other.
Viola said repeatedly that this year’s theme, “Here I am, send me” was perfect for the girls. To be sent by God means to bear the Good News that Jesus is all you need. The girls are realizing that they don’t need expensive cars, or the most “in” clothes, or boyfriends to make them valuable. All they need is Jesus.
Our thanks go out to Viola and fellow counselors Jen Vroon, Audrey Vriend, Alex Heinen, and
Erica Wolthuis. Keep up your great work Gems Team!
Janet and I will be leaving soon. Several months ago we were offered the opportunity of a life time, and with the blessing of Bethel Church’s leadership, we will be taking advantage of it.
We will be departing for the Middle East on May 14, and will be touring Egypt, Jordon, and Israel over a two and half week period. The trip was given to us as a gift by a foundation called “Under the Fig Tree,” launched by a wealthy, and very generous, Christian couple who believes that Christian Reformed ministers will serve their churches better if they see Holy Land for themselves. In keeping with the foundation’s mandate, each and every pastor (and spouse) in the denomination has been offered this travel opportunity. Our local group will consist of about 30 pastors and their spouses from the area.
While the trip is only two and a half weeks long, it will span three Sundays. I will return just in time for the Men’s Adventure - which I wouldn’t miss for the world - so I will be off the pulpit that Sunday as well. That means I will not be up front in church on a Sunday for four weeks in a row.
During those four weeks you will be well served. Pastor Ryan, Kevin and Jessica Rietema, and Wendy Werkman are teaming up to present a series called God for all People. Here is how it will break down:
I look forward to seeing you this Sunday and next, then will be excited to return with insights to share from my trip and to hear about how God worked at Bethel while I was away!
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