Happy New Year! As we turn the calendar and begin 2019, I’m excited to celebrate with you some highlights of God’s work among us in 2018, and also look forward with expectation to the months ahead!
We start by celebrating 16 baptisms in 2018, including one special Sunday when we saw eight people take this step of faith! I am thrilled to see this number increase dramatically over the last few years: three in 2016, and five in 2017. To God be the glory for the way He is stirring in hearts and changing lives!
Praise the Lord for great participation in One Winter Night (including so many of you who volunteered to make it happen) and our Christmas Eve services! We know of at least one family whose first time at Grace Point was One Winter Night, and they have returned on Sundays in December. Let’s continue to pray for long-term life change as a result of the amazing outreach at OWN.
Another celebration from this past Advent season is the amazingmovement ofgenerosity among our church family, following our Advent Conspiracy study on “spending less and giving more,” and what a response! We set out with a goal to provide two wells (costing $10,000 each) to villages without clean water, and you responded so incredibly, we FAR EXCEEDED that expectation! We will give more specifics soon, after the year’s finances have been closed out, but for now I’ll say that we at least doubled our goal! Let’s pray that these wells meet both physical and spiritual needs, as Samaritan’s Purse does this ministry in the name of Jesus.
I also want to take this opportunity on behalf of the staff to thank those who contributed to the staff Christmas gift – we are truly humbled and grateful to serve here!
Before leaving the topic of generosity, we can also celebrate that we finished 2018 in the black, as our General Fund giving has caught up to budgeted need. This positions us for some very exciting ministry in the year to come:
A dedicated FOCUS Team under the direction of Catalyst President Ellen Livingood and our Pastor of Missions Steve Weir will be examining our outreach strategy and working to flesh out what it looks like to “build bridges for life change through Christ” both locally and globally. If you are not part of our GP Prayer Team, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be part of our 21 Days of Prayer for GP FOCUS, which begins Monday, January 7.
Our staff is devoting new energy to our strategy of “creating a culture of belonging” as we read a book together called Fusion by Nelson Searcy. As part of our efforts we are upgrading our database, which will allow more personal and robust follow up with our guests. It will also facilitate better communication among our church family, including our Groups, which are the heartbeat of our connections with one another.
Toward that goal of improved communication, our pastors want to offer a new forum for conversation, “Coffee with the Pastors,” to give you the opportunity to share any constructive feedback or new ideas for our consideration. The inaugural conversation will be on January 27 (the day after the next business meeting) – you can choose to participate at either 1pm or 7pm in A5-6. The pastors look forward to talking with you about what’s on your mind.
I could go on, but you have your own New Year projects to tackle. Praying that God bears much fruit through us together, for HIS glory, in 2019!
I find myself avoiding the news lately. I get tired of hearing of the violence, division, hatred, and injustice that seem to fill the screen.
In contrast, my eight year old son, Reilly, loves to watch the news and see what is happening in the world – both good and bad. When he does see/hear of some of the awful things happening in our world, he often says things like, “Daddy, don’t they know that’s not right?” Or, “Why don’t people love other people? Don’t they know that God loves them?” Often, “We should do something and tell them about Jesus.”
He’s right. God does love them. People do need Jesus. And, we should do something.
Scott Ridout, the president of Converge and Dr. Harold Lewis, Converge’s VP of Biblical Diversity recently shared from Micah about what our response should be to last week’s synagogue shooting and other violence in the news. Below is a short excerpt from a recent blog post.
Last week’s news was filled with injustice. Saturday’s massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Pittsburgh area left 11 dead and many more wounded. On Friday, it was announced that the suspected pipe-bomber who sent packages to former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, CNN, and other political and thought leaders was arrested. On Wednesday, a man tried to break into a predominantly black church in Kentucky. When he was unsuccessful, he drove to the local Kroger and killed two African-Americans based solely on the color of their skin.
These stories, though seemingly completely disconnected, are not. All were driven by hate and fear fueled by the ever-increasing divisions we see in our country around race, ethnicity, culture, politics, pride and fear. Divisive rifts are growing in our country as more and more people self-identify around what they are against and ignore the commonalities that could draw us together.
Social media is fast becoming a bastion of hate, emboldening negative talk under the banner of free speech and self-expression. With polls soon to be open, political campaigns seem to have reached a new low in the all-out strategy of character assassination of opponents. There seems to be little or no conversation about the issues of everyday life. The media has also done its part, adding to the feeding frenzy with perhaps less-than-fully objective angles on stories that our itching ears want to hear (2 Tm. 4:3).
While general agreement about such events being evil is common, meaningful action in response to such things is rare. “General agreement” is often the enemy of true change. General agreement is the idea that we all agree that something should be done or could be done. But we do nothing because just agreeing seems to satisfy our souls.
Divisive leadership will always result in divided culture. Words are worthless to address mortal wounds. Moments of silence will not muffle the screams of those who lost loved ones. Flags at half-mast will not change half-hearted efforts. Political elections are not the answer for personal character flaws. Committees can’t heal our country of this cancer…only Christ can. This present time calls for action from the church.
We must lead the way. While I agree that it would be wise for all of us to look at our church security protocols, I pray for a more robust response from the church that goes beyond taking care of ourselves. We must respond to our communities.
Last month Dr. Harold Lewis joined our team as the Vice President of Biblical Diversity. Our hope is that we can work together to find solutions that empower our local churches to lead the way in tangible, gospel-centered, God-honoring responses that result in changed hearts and impacted communities.
As we hit the halfway mark in our Revelation series, “A Concise Guide to the End of the World,” we want to make you aware of two resources that might interest those who want to do extra study.
1 – Revelation Q&A with Dr. Jonathan Master. Mark your calendar for Friday, November 9, from 7-8:30pm, in Rooms A5-6. Dr. Master, Professor of Theology at Cairn University, will respond to questions that expand on our sermon series. Submit your End Times questions on the book of Revelation to email@example.com.
2 – Overview of Revelation Interpretation. The ESV Study Bible offers an excellent overview of various ways to approach the book of Revelation. You can read the overview here, and see the first few pages of Revelation with study notes as well. You might also consider the ESV Study Bible as a Christmas present for yourself or someone you love!
God Owns It All: Transform your fear and confusion about finances into confidence and peace.
Ever wonder about God’s view of money?
Join us for God Owns It All as we explore Biblical, financial principles that will equip you and those you love to approach money management and financial planning with increasing freedom, generosity, contentment, and confidence. With over four decades of experience in the financial-services industry, Ron Blue (via DVD) presents financial principles that are affirmed by the authority of Scripture and tested by the marketplace. He knows that God’s principles work and are needed in our finances.
Wednesdays, 6:30-7:45pm, for six weeks starting Wednesday, September 19.
Sign-ups available at our Next Steps Area after Labor Day and online registration will be coming soon. Visit gracepointpa.org/events.
Over the course of eight days our team experienced something truly miraculous. Twenty-six of us boarded a bus in the wee hours in Newtown, PA to travel to one of the poorest communities in Cochabamba, Bolivia. We left with a singular purpose – to bless the children and families of two Child Development Centers (Unidos en Cristo and Iglesia Cristiana Evangelica Marquina).
You can find summaries of our trip in our two-part series here and here.
Little did we know that it would be us who would be blessed beyond measure. Words cannot describe the feelings and love that we have for the Bolivian people. They possess a joy and a contentment that is not based on material possessions, luxuries, Starbucks, or everyday stuff. The joy these people have is based in the Lord and His divine provision for their needs.
Over the course of the week we saw God “show up” more times than we could count. From little unplanned encounters to a few encouraging words that were perfectly timed by God, our team has been forever changed by this trip.
My heart is forever changed
Each evening we would have a “debrief meeting” at which time I would ask each of our team members to reflect on something that God taught them that day or something they experienced. But, they had to do it in 3-5 words. Some words that were shared included, “My heart is forever changed”, “God bless the translators”, “You guys get it”, “Miraculous divine appointments.”
Early Tuesday morning we caught a fight from our beloved city of Cochabamba to the busy city life of Santa Cruz. The two cities are like night and day, but both still lovely. Once we arrived to our hotel, we enjoyed lunch with some special guests. One of our teammates, Stacey, had an opportunity to meet her 4 year-old sponsor child in addition to his 17 year-old mother. They joined us for lunch and a sight-seeing tour in Santa Cruz. Having had a full schedule all week of work at the Centers, church, VBS, home visits, and all the emotions with it, it was nice to have a bit of a “slow day” – even if it would end up being the longest day with travel.
It was clear that despite having a good night’s rest into Tuesday, our team was tired. Tired from ministry. Tired from the emotional rollercoasters of meeting new beloved friends and then saying goodbye. Tired from the wear and tear of a full schedule. But, it was good tired. The opportunity to see firsthand the impact that our love and sponsorship has for these children was incredible.
The journey home was to be a long one. Our 2:30 AM flight from Santa Cruz to Panama City was smooth, or at least it seemed that way – most of us were able to get some sleep, even if it wasn’t restful. With a three-hour layover in Panama, we were reminded of God’s work in our lives and our team. Many of us, again, shared stories and pictures from our phones about our experiences and the various “God sightings.”
What seemed like the longest day ever, Tuesday/Wednesday (whatever day it was) was a day of reflection and contemplation. What will we do differently once we return home?
Will we continue with life “as is?” Or will we see our worlds differently? Some have already said that we “live with too much in Pennsylvania.” Some have shared that they will get more involved in missions or global endeavors, whether at church or elsewhere. Some have shared that they will start now to train and educate their own children about life in another culture, how blessed we are, and how much we take for granted.
What will we do differently once we return home?
Some have already made an impact as a result of our trip. At least four additional children have been sponsored by our team alone. I can tell you that this team is passionate about what they experienced. Informal recruitment for future trips has already begun. Regardless of whether or not you sponsor a child through Compassion, this trip and trips like this one are life-changing and God can/will use these trips to open your eyes to what life outside of our bubbles is really like.
We’ve all seen that sponsoring a child is one simple step, though an important one. It is the building and nurturing of a relationship with your child and their family that can last a lifetime.
My experience this week, and I’ve been to Bolivia before, was such that I came away with a bigger heart for God’s work and what He’s doing. Bolivia has become like my home away from home.
One of our fantastic translators, Jacob, made an endearing observation on Saturday when spending time with me and my sponsored kiddos. He said, “You have two boys in America, and you now have two daughters in Bolivia.” While I hadn’t made that realization myself, I knew instantly that it was true. Our Dayana is so special to us, she has become like a daughter to me and our family. Visiting her home, having fun together on Saturday, seeing her at church on Sunday, then VBS on Sunday, this guy’s heart is full.
Then to meet Deysi, a young teenager who is sponsored by the Grace Point staff. Joan, Chuck and I got to meet Deysi at her home, spend fun day with her on Saturday, worship with her on Sunday, and then party at VBS. I quickly learned that there was more genuine love to go around. Being the Missions Pastor, and most likely the guy who will write most of the letters to her, I found that Deysi, just as Jacob observed, quickly became like a daughter to me. I don’t know that I’ll be able to easily share the letter writing responsibility with the other staff. Deysi is a dear young lady who I’m certain will grow to be a strong woman of God.
At that evening’s debrief meeting, my 3-5 words were simply, “two sons and two daughters” – a phrase that even now causes my eyes to tear up.
Is there more to share? Absolutely. Is there more work to be done in Cochabamba? Absolutely. Do we have an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child, in a church, in the surrounding community, and in the country of Bolivia? Absolutely. And it is humbling.
It is our turn to step forward and answer the call of Jesus. To minister and love the poor, to step out of our comfort zones and make an impact in the life of a child. How will you respond and what will be your 3-5 words?
This is Part Two of our Bolivia Team Blog update. To catch up, read Part One.
Day 4 – Saturday
Today was our fun day and it lived up to its name. We woke up (a little later than the past few days!) to rain and a forecast that did not permit us to go to the amusement park we had planned, but in God’s grace, Plan B was even better!
Through connections of one of our Compassion Staff, we were able to go to a retreat center that was much more intimate and because of this we could all see and even interact with each other throughout the day. It was very cool here today but the rains stayed away (Praise God) and we could be outdoors playing volleyball, parachute games, soccer, frisbee, and just hanging out.
Each of us who had a sponsor child were able to spend the day together with the total purpose of having fun and building bonds. The children’s tutors were with them and many of our children brought along members of their family as well. It was really special!
We received a bagged lunch from Chicken Kingdom with french fries and yummy sauces. All of this is such a treat to many of these families and the atmosphere was very relaxed.
Later this afternoon we had a few hours before dinner to rest or shop and then we walked to a local steak restaurant called Paprika where we were served an awesome dinner and dessert. It was a nice treat to be outside of the hotel and experience some local flavor.
One of our teammates description of the day was very appropriate and resonated with each of us: “church picnic/family reunion!”
Day 5 – Sunday
Another amazing day in Bolivia! We boarded two separate buses—going to two different churches—for worship this morning. Grace Point headed to Unidos en Cristo while Restoration Church headed to Iglesia Cristiana Evangelica Marquina.
We were warmly welcomed by the congregation at Unidos en Cristo and as the worship music began to play, the church started to fill. With a God-inspired message, Steve Weir shared from the heart to trust God in and with ALL things. There were special musical performances by the dear women of the church and the youth. And yet another special, impromptu musical performance by our team when asked/told, “Grace Point, don’t you want to sing us a song or something?” Sure we do! And we did. To end the service, all 16 of us were asked to stand in front of the church to receive a heartfelt prayer from Pastor Angel and a beautiful, colorful vest as a gift, as well as kisses, hugs and handshakes from the entire congregation.
Restoration folks had a similar experience today as we visited the Marquina church. This is the first time that a team has ever visited this center and church. The smiles, hugs and kisses, tears of joy, and overwhelming warmth of welcome was something that I will truly never forget. We had the opportunity to listen to Pastor Jhonny [different from the Pastor Jhonny at Unidos en Cristo] preach from God’s Word as well as play the guitar during worship (remind you of anyone we know at RC?!). Our entire team was greeted by every member of the congregation – from the smallest babies to the kindest little old ladies you have ever seen. Our entire team was so blessed to be a part of this church this morning.
We enjoyed a delicious and filling lunch with the pastors and leaders of both churches before we headed off to visit the Cristo de la Concordia statue. The views of this beautiful city were absolutely stunning and it is certainly a scene that will never leave our memories.
This evening our team continued to prepare for the two sessions of VBS tomorrow. We are so excited to share God’s love with the children – sharing the message that “When you worry… Jesus rescues!”
Day 6 – Monday
What an amazing last day in Bolivia! We showed God’s love through a day of VBS at Unidos en Cristo. We broke into four stations – Music, Bible, Crafts and Games – in a morning and an afternoon session. There were about 40-45 children in the morning, ages 6-9, and the afternoon session had about 80-90 children ages 6-12.
The Music Team taught a Bible verse in Spanish, Psalm 34:19, which says in the kid-friendly version: “The Lord comes to the rescue each time.” They also taught two songs with motions. The theme for today was: When We Worry, Jesus Rescues.
The Bible Team taught a lesson about Mary and Martha. Katie Beth was able to deliver the story in Spanish. The Craft Team made a toucan out of foam and feathers. This was the Bible Buddy for the day. The Games Team was able to use the beautiful turf field a block away from the Project. The kids enjoyed playing dodge ball with multiple beach balls.
We gathered back as a large group to perform the songs together and create a rainstorm using only our hands. And then it was time to say goodbye to sponsored children and new friends.
The team traveled back to the hotel in our two trusty buses and some tears were shed as we said goodbye to some of our beloved translators: Jacob, Evelin, and Peter.
Thirty minutes later, we headed to the hotel restaurant and enjoyed our final dinner in Cochabamba with Pastor Angel, Pastor Jhonny and their families. One of the Compassion translators, José, created a highlight reel of our time here in Cochabamba. It included almost everything we did, everywhere we went, and every cheek kiss we received! This video reminded us of all the ways that God is at work here. Yes, there were a few tears as we relived our experiences in a place that we will hold forever close to our hearts.
The evening also included comments and prayers by Pastor Jhonny, Pastor Angel, Pastor Angel’s wife Dina, and Steve Weir. Each one expressed their gratitude and appreciation for our mutual love for the children and service to the Lord.
Day 7 – Tuesday
Tuesday morning we headed to the airport to begin the first leg of our journey home. After a short flight from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz, we ate lunch at our hotel and headed out for some sight-seeing and souvenir shopping. It was quite the experience to learn about the rich history and architecture of Santa Cruz, and to get to try on some traditional Bolivian attire. After a fun-filled dinner out, we headed back to the hotel for the last remaining hours in our beloved Bolivia.
Twenty-four hours before our final bus delivered our team to the Grace Point entrance, two Bolivian buses left with our team members heading for the Santa Cruz airport. Every connection on this trip was smooth, every passport and visa in order, all of the means of transportation on time (or very close—our bus was delayed at the beginning on July 17) until the very end. We had some delays in customs upon our return to the U.S. (it seemed that most of the airplane-riding world converged on Dulles at the moment that our plane landed) and then the “monsoon” weather in the DC area led to flooded roads and accident-related delays.
So, ultimately, we arrived at Grace Point at 11:00 pm, which was a few hours later than we had hoped for. Having traveled over 4,000 miles in the past 24 hours, we were all ready to be climb into our own beds and get some much-needed rest.
You could say that the trip is over and that our arrival home is the last of this tribe of very close sisters and brothers. But that would be wrong. We are already planning get-togethers and reports to our sending churches, Restoration Church and Grace Point. And I can tell you from being a part of this Spirit-unified, cohesive team that we are going to be looking for fruit of transformation that will come from the seeds that have been planted in two relatively small churches perched on the sides of the hills surrounding Cochabamba, Bolivia…and in the hearts of each of our team members in the process of serving Jesus faithfully.
In the wee hours of Tuesday, July 17 a team of 26 people (a mix from Grace Point and Restoration Church) headed to Bolivia for 8 days; and it was amazing. It is difficult to share all that our team experienced while in Bolivia – including the many God-sightings and the emotional roller-coaster ride of visiting our sponsored children and their families, our friends at Unidos en Cristo, and making new friends at another Child Development Center. Our trip with Compassion International was incredible beyond words. Our schedule was full and hectic at times, but we had a great team that was flexible and willing to adapt.
Compassion’s mission statement is to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name, and we saw that firsthand. Below are small snippets from our daily prayer updates, in case you weren’t on our list, or you simply want to relive our trip with us. 🙂
Day 1 – Wednesday
Today was nothing short of amazing, encouraging, emotional, and inspiring. Cochabamba is a fantastic city and sits at the feet Cristo. After arriving at the hotel and grabbing some lunch, we had some time to refresh before we made our way to the national Compassion office for all of Bolivia.
Our team split into three groups and heard all about the ministry, philosophy, and process that Compassion employs in Bolivia. Each of these wonderful Compassion employees view their work as a much-needed ministry to not just change the lives of these children, but to ultimately to bring about life change to their entire country. Next was dinner at which we were joined by Pastor Angel and a few members of the governing board at Unidos en Cristo. After dinner, Pastor Angel shared his vision for ministry and church planting. He closed by providing an update on his and his son’s recovery from an automobile accident several weeks ago.
It was long day, but worth it.
Day 2 – Thursday
Today we visited Unidos en Cristo, the first of what will be many gatherings planned for this week. Here we received a warm welcome complete with waving flags and handmade welcome signs! We had a service together in which we sang and prayed. A young lady at the age of 13 spoke to us of her favorite verse (Rev 2:10) and how we must be faithful to God in all circumstances. Then, the pastor’s wife prayed for us, their visitors, asking that God bless us and protect us. She gave thanks to God for our love of her community and home country of Bolivia. She prayed all of this through tears of love and appreciation. It was truly humbling. We came here in hopes of being a blessing to the community and these people beseech the Lord to bless us!
There were two teaching opportunities this day. The first was for the women of Unidos en Cristo in which Barb Brown spoke about the importance of living in community as Christian women and developing relationships that provide support and spur one another on to growth in Christ. Then Sherri Wolf spoke candidly about the kinds of things women and mothers struggle with and how we can seek forgiveness and ask the Lord to help us sow good seed into our children and families.
The second teaching opportunity was led by Chuck Arnold who spoke to the teenagers about what it means to be an adolescent and how to succeed even while they face many pressures growing up.
Dinner tonight was pizza spent with fifteen of the 48 students enrolled in the GAP program. GAP is a selective program in which students, age 18-22, apply to develop leadership skills. These young people were so excited to meet with us. They greeted us with music, provided a concert for us during which they implored us to dance. We later met in small groups and learned about the various experiences of these sponsored children. GAP provides small group connections and support. It was awesome!
Day 3 – Friday
Today was the first day we split teams; Grace Point went back to 703 (Unidos en Cristo) for a service day, and those of us from RC had the amazing opportunity to visit a center that has never received a visit before. As they pulled up to the gates of Iglesia Cristiana Evangelica Marquina, we could see the children and staff had made a beautiful welcome banner they strung along a second floor balcony. The children all ducked behind it when they saw us approaching and when we got off the bus they all popped out to shout “BIENVENIDOS! (Welcome!)” As they walked down the stairs, each child holding a brightly colored balloon, they sang a song for us. They let the balloons go as they reached out to embrace us each, one at a time. It was a beautiful, heart-warming welcome!
The RC folks had a day filled with home visits, a special opportunity to tag along with the Compassion staff for a home-based program visit for mothers and infants. Then, they had a chance to meet with the staff at BO-707 and enjoy games and activities with the children.
The GP folks helped to sand and repaint the furniture for the classrooms at Unidos en Cristo. We also installed a new computer lab for the students, with 12 desktop computers. Additionally, we brought seven laptops with us for the students to use for homework and other computer training. The staff and students who were there on Friday were extremely grateful and excited about these new resources!
Be sure to read more about our trip in “Part Two.”