A Bethel ministry that often flies under the radar is the Bannerman Afterschool Soccer Program. It is an eight-week program for local elementary school children offered at the start of each school year that just wrapped up this past Wednesday. This year the ministry witnessed a startling answer to prayer.
The leaders of the program, Hans and Rita Vandenbrink, knew they faced a challenge. With insurance companies enforcing stricter rules for church-run programs, they had to require that each participant in the program present a parent-sign permission slip before they could play. They fully anticipated that numbers would be down this year until children could remember to get their slips signed.
But something unexpected happened. The assistant principal took it upon herself to actively promote the program. Rather than putting slips in some forgotten corner of the school, she brought slips to each classroom and asked that teachers tell students about the program and the permission slips. The result was that the first day, the ministry broke the attendance record with 27 children showing up to play soccer!
In the past several years the Vandenbrinks have relied more on prayer for the ministry, recruiting supportive people to pray regularly for the program. They attribute this year’s breakthrough to those prayers.
The passion that drives them is the desire to see the children impacted, not only physically and socially but also spiritually. Before kids play soccer each week, they gather to eat a snack and hear a Bible Story. Each session ends with children reciting a Bible verse from memory to win a prize. Over the years, several children who started in the soccer program eventually joined other Bethel ministries like Gems and Cadets.
Since most of the children who attend the program are from families who originated outside of Canada - in places such as Laos, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eastern Europe, and South America - we can say that the program is actually world missions outreach right in our church’s neighbourhood.
Hans and Rita started the Bannerman Afterschool Soccer program 8 years ago. This year, they were helped by Joanne Rozendaal and Daniel Groth.
You may remember a few months ago hearing about a new initiative that Bethel is undertaking in partnership with the Bannerman Community League and the City of Edmonton called "Abundant Communities." The goal of the program is to re-create a sense of community within neighbourhoods all across the city. Instead of coming to a community and creating programming based upon the neighbourhoods "needs", the ACI seeks to find the strengths in the neighbourhood and build programming designed around that.
Over the last few months I have had the opportunity, along with a couple others from Bethel, to go door-to-door in Bannerman on behalf of the Community League. In the process I have been invited to the kitchen tables of my fellow Bannermanites to talk about the neighbourhood. In the process I have been very encouraged and learned a great deal. I have learned that while people can put up walls around themselves and their neighbours, almost everyone desires deeper community. There are many broken homes and lonely people who need the love of God. I have learned that if given the opportunity to be heard and cared for, people will engage in a meaningful way.
When people find out that I am a pastor from the church down the road, they open up and start asking questions about faith and church. This has been the highlight for me! I have been happy to hear that people appreciate the work our church is doing in Bannerman and want to learn more about us. I can see God at work in the hearts of people from a variety of background all around the church.
The ACI faced a set back when Jennifer Black-Moir stepped down as the Connector-Coordinator for Bannerman. While there is a solid group of Block-Connectors (who are responsible for 20 houses), her absence will be felt as the group leader. I want you ask you, Bethel, to pray with me that we find a new leader who is passionate about Bannerman and can take this project on. Also, if you live in Bannerman and want to learn more (or get involved) I would love to chat with you about this exciting project.
- Pastor Ryan
Bethel pulled it off. On Wednesday of this week, fifty to sixty delegates representing Christian Reformed churches ranging from Red Deer to Fort McMurray descended upon Bethel Church for a 27-hour marathon-meeting. As the host church of this biannual gathering called “Classis” (from a Latin word meaning “ships sailing together in a fleet”) it was our job to make sure tables were set up, sound and media techs were on hand, and snacks and meals were served at regular intervals. It was a huge undertaking.
But Bethel displayed a beautiful spirit of servanthood by rising to the challenge and doing so with excellence. Randall Huisman recruited and coordinated the efforts of approximately 20 volunteers. (Many of these people were present throughout the duration of the event.) Jenny Hofstede did a superb job of giving leadership to the team of the kitchen helpers who made mealtimes so enjoyable.
The pastors, elders, deacons, and ministry representatives who came to the gathering were appreciative. Many commented on how smoothly things flowed and on the quality of the food. I was especially pleased when one person said, “I enjoy being here,” because I realized he was commenting on the spirit in which people were being served, not just on how the logistics of the meeting were handled. Others delegates indicated that they sensed a certain atmosphere at Bethel - they discerned that active and joyful ministry was happening here.
Way to go Bethel! Let’s keep depending on the Lord to use us in big and little ways to touch the lives of others. --Pastor Tom
The apostle Paul often began his letters to the various churches by expressing his thanks for the congregation. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you…” he says to the Christians in Rome. “We always thank God for all of you…” he says to the Thessalonians. With the Thanksgiving weekend upon us, I would like to express some of the reasons I am thankful for you, Bethel.
· I am thankful that the waters of faith run deep in this community. For many, many of you, your faith has matured over the years, sometimes going back generations, sometimes through suffering, with the result that you are deeply and solidly rooted in Christ.
· I am thankful for the swift current of prayer that runs through Bethel. My heart is often warmed as I cry out to God with the dozen or so people who come to Bethel each Wednesday morning at 6:30 a.m. to pray. Many have made prayer part of their personal and family lives. We have ministries specifically to provide prayer, and increasingly, all of our ministries are relying on prayer.
· No doubt because of the above two reasons, I am thankful that my work is a joy. So many Pastors I know would be thrilled to minister where life-changing things are always percolating in the church community, driven by the Holy Spirit. This is my weekly experience. Jesus is touching lives in little and big ways, and I am swimming hard to keep up with the waves of blessing.
· I am thankful that Bethel has a good reputation in the neighbourhood. A number of people from the community have told me recently that Bethel is regarded as a church that cares.
· I am thankful for my small group - a dedicated band of Bethelites from my neighbourhood who are fellow-travelers on the journey of growing deep in relationship, committed to the adventure of finding ways to touch others with the love of Christ.
· I am thankful because I regularly have encounters in which I will witness a Bethel member serving others lovingly, self-sacrificially, joyfully, and without fanfare. It never fails to humble me.
In last Sunday’s message, I talked about God’s plan to reveal His love in Jesus to people from every nation and language. I shared my own dream that Bethel would increasingly see people from different nationalities come to know Jesus Christ and take part in the church’s life. I’m excited to share with you that this dream is already being fulfilled in an exciting way.
On Monday evenings our ESL (English as a Second Language) ministry meets. Thirty students, speaking 21 different languages, come through Bethel’s doors each week to improve their language skills. There are people in attendance from China, Korea, Burma, Pakistan, Portugal, Bosnia, Moldova, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Algeria, Liberia, El Salvador, and Columbia. Along with learning English, students also have the opportunity to learn about faith.
The teachers in the program attend Bethel or other Christian churches, so many casual opportunities to talk about faith arise. Social events for the students and their families during the year also create natural bridges for faith-conversations. In addition to these more or less spontaneous opportunities, students are invited to optional discussions about the most influential book ever written - the Bible. (This coming season, ministry directors Fred and Grace Tomek plan to use “The Hope” video, an excellent summary of the biblical story and God’s promise for all people.)
Fred and Grace and the other six ESL teachers love the participants and are eager for them to learn the English language, but they have a deeper desire to see them learn about the savior. Grace writes, “Truthfully, there is nothing more exciting than sharing the wonder of life and forgiveness through Jesus!”
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