Click here to download the December 2020 edition in PDF format.
For more information about LUCM, contact Bueno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-350-3815.
Click here to download the December 2020 edition in PDF format.
For more information about LUCM, contact Bueno at email@example.com or 402-350-3815.
What do Pittsburgh, Orlando, and Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas have in common? For two EPC ordination candidates and their families, Orlando is the middle link in a chain that stretches more than 1,000 miles across two countries.
On September 3, Jude and Keitra Vilma arrived in Orlando from Nassau, where he had served as a pastoral intern for St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk. He grew up in a Haitian Creole community in Marsh Harbor, has been a youth worker with the Bahamas Youth Network, and now is a pastoral resident at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando while pursuing a Master of Divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS).
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Barrett Hendrickson was in the process of transferring his status as Candidate Under Care from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies to the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. A May 2020 RTS graduate, he and his wife, Carrie, had joined the Caribbean Youth Network (CYN) to serve with EPC Teaching Elder Gabe Swing at the Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas. The church is a mission of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.
The Hendricksons staged in Florida for several months while they waited for pandemic-related restrictions in the Bahamas to be lifted. On November 4, they arrived in Marsh Harbor, which was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
“We are extremely excited to welcome the Hendrickson family to Abaco,” Swing said. “They will provide needed support for relief efforts and help us re-engage the community through outreach and worship opportunities.”
Hendrickson said that when he was young, one of the ways his youth pastor mentored him was through preforming manual labor, such as mowing the lawns of older church members.
“I wanted to be able to do that here,” he said. “Of course sharing Jesus and discipling people, but also by providing tangible, physical needs.”
Swing said conditions in Marsh Harbor continue to be “very difficult” for residents, with many still without adequate housing, electricity, and running water.
“The reconstruction moves at a snail’s pace, and many residents have to acquire drinking water from Water Mission distribution sites,” he said. “The pandemic has frustrated recovery efforts, and food security has become a major problem. Thousands of people are relying on free food distribution from the government and NGOs.”
In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, approximately $175,000 has been disbursed to Kirk of the Pines from the EPC Emergency Relief Fund.
Swing noted that “regular giving has all but vanished” since so many church members have been displaced to other islands in the Bahamas, as well as the U.S. He said the Emergency Relief Fund donations have been used to purchase a truck to distribute relief supplies; provide food and housing for several displaced families; assist with living expenses for he and his wife, Jan; and fund pastoral visits to members of the congregation.
‘Raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders’
While Orlando was a stopping point in the Hendrickson’s journey to the Bahamas, the Vilmas are adjusting to life at FPCO and RTS. He is the recipient of the Andrew Jumper Scholarship, which is named for one of the EPC’s founders and awarded by RTS to a full-time MDiv student who demonstrates “exemplary Christian character and potential for ministry.”
David Swanson, FPCO Senior Pastor, said the Vilmas are “settling into the FPCO family beautifully” as the congregation has resumed in-person worship.
“Our commitment is to take an active role in raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders with a special eye towards greater diversity,” he said. “The Vilmas are the perfect fit for a mutually beneficial partnership. Jude is already leading in worship and will be meeting with each member of the pastoral team on a regular basis as the meat of his pastoral residency program. He will be exposed to every dimension of church life, including finance and administration, with the goal of helping him be ready theologically and practically for a fruitful future pastorate.”
Vilma said that he did not expect to be awarded the Jumper Scholarship, and when he received the news he knew he and his wife would be moving to Florida.
“I knew I was coming to Orlando,” Vilma said. “First Pres was very generous to us coming here with their love and support, so it’s really great for us. I hope to continue to grow under David Swanson, Case Thorp, and the other pastors here, and eventually to serve within the EPC itself.”
FPCO has partnered with the EPC congregations in the Bahamas “in extremely meaningful ways,” said Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Kirk. “No individual congregation has contributed more to the health and progress of St. Andrew’s and Kirk of the Pines than First Pres Orlando.”
Hendrickson said Vilma is “our great success story” from CYN.
“When we came down last August before Hurricane Dorian hit to see the opportunity with Gabe and CYN, Jude walked us through Marsh Harbor and the Haitian neighborhood where he grew up,” he said. “So to connect with him and Keitra in Orlando was wonderful. To recognize how God raised him up here—and now bringing us to Abaco—it was like God was saying to us, ‘there is opportunity to raise up more.’ That’s our long-term goal: to raise Bahamian pastors.”
The EPC has launched an emergency relief fund to help relieve suffering caused by a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 4. The blast killed more than 180 people and injured an additional 6,000. An estimated 300,000 people were left homeless.
Donations to the fund will be sent to the Church of the Nazarene in Beirut and other key ministry partners of EPC World Outreach.
“The Nazarene Church in Lebanon has a long history of work among Lebanon’s poor and refugees, and is very well-positioned to provide emergency help in Christ’s name to victims of the blast,” said Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach. “Many of our Nazarene brothers and sisters there were sharing their meager resources with refugees even before the explosion. Our gifts will be a great encouragement to their faithful and generous outreach, as well as our other partners in Lebanon.”
Click here to donate to the Beirut Explosion Relief Fund. Thank you for providing help to those in need.
The Philemon Project GROW Center, an early childhood development center and adult mentoring program in Beirut, Lebanon, was heavily damaged by the explosion that rocked the city on August 5. The center is located approximately two miles from Beirut’s port, where the blast occurred.
The GROW Center is a project of EPC World Outreach and is led by Robert Hamd, a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of the Central South. Hamd reported by email late August 5 that none of the center’s staff were seriously injured, but one employee’s home was destroyed.
“Our house is completely gone,” said Azig, an Early Development Specialist at the GROW Center. “We gathered clothes, money, and important papers as much as we can. My family will go to my brother’s fiancee’s house. Please mention us in your prayers, I don’t know how we will overcome this.”
Hand reported that “not much is salvageable” at the GROW Center.
“The building has structural damage, stuff is strewn everywhere, windows are broken,” Hamd said. “Thank God no one was in the building when it happened.”
He added that the staff is “traumatized.”
“They’re weeping,” he said. “One told me she cried for three hours straight until she collapsed from exhaustion.”
As of August 6, no major injuries have been reported among the families the GROW Center serves.
“We grieve with the long-suffering people of Beirut in the aftermath of this terrible shaking,” said Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach. “We pray God will comfort them and, through people like the GROW Center staff, give them a foundation that can never be shaken.”
More than 135 people are confirmed dead from the explosion, with more than 5,000 injured and as many as 300,000 homeless. Officials have said those numbers are likely to climb. Marwan Abboud, Beirut’s Governor, said half the buildings in Beirut are damaged. The explosion was reportedly caused by 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored in a warehouse at the port since 2013.
“Please pray for our work and witness,” Hamd said. “This is a catastrophe of epic proportions.”
The GROW Center provides early childhood development opportunities for at-risk and underserved Lebanese, Syrian refugee, and migrant children and their families in a Christian environment. For more information about the Philemon Project GROW Center, see www.thephilemonproject.org.
To donate to the center’s recovery, go to www.epcwo.org/supportphilemongrow. Hamd noted that all donations given in the near future will go toward “repairing the building, replacing books, toys, kitchen items—basically everything.”
John Bueno, EPC Home Missionary serving with Latins United Christian Ministries (LUCM), has published his Spring 2020 newsletter, in which he discusses Latin cross-cultural ministries in the EPC. Among the highlights are challenges faced by churches in Colombia due to the coronavirus pandemic, a variety of reports on ministry efforts in 2019, and a significant praise report on an ongoing personal health issue.
Click here to download the Spring 2020 edition in PDF format.
For more information about LUCM, contact Bueno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-350-3815.
by Phil Linton
Director, EPC World Outreach
As WWII drew to a close, a young Russian soldier-mathematician was arrested and condemned to imprisonment and permanent exile for privately criticizing Stalin. Imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp, later suffering from cancer and given just weeks to live, it seemed that all the plans, hopes, and dreams of his life were shattered. But what Stalin meant for evil, God used for good, and the arrest changed the course of Aleksankr Solzhenitsyn’s life so that the soldier-mathematician became one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
The COVID-19 pandemic is shattering many of our plans and dreams, but how is it affecting EPC World Outreach? It is causing us, like you, to be on heightened alert. We are talking with and listening to government sources, other mission agencies, and our own colleagues around the world to try to keep up with changing situations. But, above all else, we keep in mind that God is in control, and there is no virus that can do anything without God using it for His good purposes.
The EPC World Outreach staff in Orlando is doing the same things that many of you are—working from our homes, canceling all but essential travel, postponing events, and changing meetings to video conferences. We have stepped up text, audio, and video calls to stay in even closer communication with our global workers to pray with them and help them think through their responses.
World Outreach is neither requiring nor forbidding any of our workers to return to the States. We believe these decisions are best made at a team level by those most aware of local situations. Two of our workers, in exceptional circumstances, have returned to the States in the past week. The rest are heeding local medical advice, postponing travel, and adopting social practices to inhibit spreading the disease. As they have long prayed for spiritual breakthroughs in their communities, they are now waiting in hope for opportunities to be God’s ambassadors to neighbors in need.
The message that our global workers tell their neighbors is the same message they tell themselves: in a global pandemic the only safe place to flee to is the arms of God.
Thank you for remembering our missionaries even as you face your own challenges. Thank you for praying for them as you pray for your own families; thank you for giving to support them, even as you deal with your own financial reverses. Please continue to pray.
Looking back at the surprising course of his life, Solzhenitsyn wrote this prayer:
How easy for me to live with you, Lord!
How easy to believe in you!
When my mind casts about
or flags in bewilderment,
when the cleverest among us
cannot see past the present evening,
not knowing what to do tomorrow—
you send me the clarity to know
that you exist
and will take care
that not all paths of goodness should be barred.
At the crest of earthly fame
I look back in wonderment
at the journey beyond hope — to this place,
from which I was able to send mankind
a reflection of your rays.
And however long the time
that I must yet reflect them
you will give it me.
And whatever I fail to accomplish
you surely have allotted unto others.
Let us live these days of the COVID-19 pandemic so that, when it has passed, you and I will look back at it in wonderment as a time where God’s glory was most radiant.
Nearly 70 at-risk children in Lebanon and their families will benefit from a $50,000 donation to the Philemon Project Grow Center, a ministry headed by a World Outreach global worker in the region. The online donation was submitted in January and is the second major gift received by World Outreach in the past six weeks.
“The Grow Center is a vibrant ministry that shares Jesus’ love with children of migrant workers and Syrian refugees, as well as other at-risk children in Lebanon,” said Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach. “The Center also works to help break the cycle of disfunction by offering mentoring programs to the parents. The work they are doing is quite amazing.”
The Philemon Project was started to provide migrant workers in Beirut with high-quality, reasonably priced childcare. The organization has developed into a non-governmental organization (NGO) and is under the auspices of Resurrection Church Beirut. The Grow Center is a Christian-led early childhood development center and adult mentoring program. It welcomes underserved children and families from all ethnicities and religious backgrounds and provides a healthy place for children ages one to four to grow physically, cognitively, socially, and spiritually. The Center’s adult mentoring program helps parents develop skills to create lasting, healthy, and active relationships with their children.
Through the EPC’s fraternal relationship with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (INPM), Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Erie, Pa., has formed a ministry relationship with Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana El Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd National Presbyterian Church) in Monterrey, Mexico. The northeastern Mexican city of more than 4.5 million residents is about 200 miles west of Brownsville, Texas.
The seeds of the relationship were planted in November 2018, when Redeemer Pastor Douglas Kortyna and his wife, Sara, were visiting Monterrey.
“We wanted to worship with fellow Presbyterians while we were down there visiting family,” Douglas said. “We found El Buen Pastor and connected with their pastor, David Cruz.”
Through their new-found friendship with Cruz, the Kortynas began a dialogue about potential future mission trips to Mexico. After discussing a variety of possible ministry opportunities, the pastors agreed that the best fit for a first mission trip would be theological education.
“It is a universal truth that Presbyterians throughout the world love their theological education!” Douglas exclaimed.
In November 2019, the Kortynas and a retired Presbyterian pastor from the Erie area, Jim Moelk, and his wife, Jaye, traveled to Monterrey and taught on a variety of topics.
“I taught on trinitarian worship and Reformed sacraments,” Douglas said. “Jim taught through the pastoral epistles with special attention to ‘guarding your conscience,’ while Sara taught the woman’s group at El Buen Pastor on the topic of trinitarian prayer.”
In addition, the group from Redeemer learned how their Mexican counterparts were engaged in church planting.
“The church has started what they call ‘five in five,’” Douglas said. “They are working toward planting five churches within a five-year time period.”
Cruz led the Pennsylvania contigent on tours of three of the Monterrey congregation’s five current church plants.
“We were blown away,” Douglas said. “What church plants five churches in five years? Yet every time El Buen Pastor hits a certain threshold of members, they plant a church, commission the team they establish, and commit to supporting them financially.”
He explained that the El Buen Pastor congregation has “a Kingdom focus and is not interested in just building up one congregation. I couldn’t help but think we should host pastors from Mexico to help teach future EPC church planters some of their strategies!”
Kortyna hopes the November trip is just the start of a fruitful partnership.
“We would love to host a team from El Buen Pastor,” he said. “There is much to learn from our Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ while mutually serving one another, and I firmly believe we should participate with them in the missional work of church planting in Monterrey. Anyone interested in joining us is welcome to contact me at email@example.com.”
In the November 2019 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah explains how Per Member Asking contributions are put to work in the EPC.
The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.
For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.
The 2019 EPC Thanksgiving Offering has been designated for the 2019 World Outreach (WO) retreat for WO Direct female global workers. The “Reflect, Connect & Envision” retreat will be hosted by WO Member Care Directors Chris and Debbie Gibson from April 2-6, 2020, in Budapest, Hungary.
“This gathering is designed for our missionary women who are sent through World Outreach to come together for renewal, revitalization, and refreshment,” said Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach. “Most of our global workers who serve with our co-op partners have annual conferences and retreats put on by their agencies. Our workers sent directly by World Outreach only have this type of event every three years at our Family Gathering.”
Linton added that the 2020 retreat is an effort “to help our ladies on the front lines to feel loved and recharge their batteries. Our 15 WO Direct women have expressed a desire to form relationships with their counterparts who share many of the same ministry, family, parenting, and team issues,” he said.
“The theme of the event, Reflect, Connect & Envision’ will include a variety of activities, all designed to Reflect on who God is, Connect with other women in similar situations, and Envision how God wants to lead—both personally and within ministry,” Linton noted.
The financial goal for the 2019 Thanksgiving Offering is $18,000. The cost per global worker to attend is approximately $1,200 and includes airfare, ground transportation, and meals.
Secure online donations to the Thanksgiving Offering can be made at www.epc.org/donate/thanksgivingoffering. Individuals also can utilize text-to-give by texting “epcthanksgivingoffering” to 50155 from any smart device. Donors who prefer to send a check should put “Thanksgiving Offering (041)” on the memo line and send to:
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Attn: Finance Office
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822
For help with donations, contact Catherine Rutter, World Outreach Finance Assistant, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-930-4473.
For more information about the retreat, email email@example.com or call 501-413-0054.
The annual Thanksgiving Offering supports a project approved by the General Assembly each June, alternating between World Outreach and Church Planting/Revitalization.
At its fall 2019 meeting, the EPC World Outreach (WO) Committee discussed a variety of topics related to policy and finance, heard reports on several ministry projects, and interviewed several candidates for potential future appointment as global workers.
The committee met October 17-18 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando.
Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach, noted the importance of spending time on administrative matters.
“We have to continually review our policies and procedures to ensure that we are providing the best possible support for our global workers out there on the front lines,” Linton said. “I am grateful that the members of the committee take that responsibility seriously.”
Among those items were amendments to the World Outreach Manual concerning vehicles and transportation, housing, excess support, and administrative fees. The committee also discussed issues related to approved agencies and heard reports on ministry projects in Kazakhstan and Indonesia.
“It’s exciting to know that God is working in and through EPC World Outreach,” Linton noted. “The disappointing part is that because of where so many of our people are serving, we have to be so careful in our reporting so we don’t jeopardize their safety.”
Members of the World Outreach Committee are Kevin Cauley, Chairman, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; Brad Buescher, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Great Plains; Rick Dietzman Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; Phyllis Ellsworth, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Midwest; Susan Lear, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Great Plains; Johnny Long, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the West; David Miller, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; Patrick Tucker, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Gulf South; and David Van Valkenburg, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the West.
by Jerry Iamurri
EPC Assistant Stated Clerk
“This is the worst natural disaster in the history of the Bahamas—please don’t forget us.”
Sarah was not the only person in Freeport who asked me that. But she represents thousands of people who know that the news cycle is short, and that the media coverage that galvanized a wave of relief support since Hurricane Dorian ravaged the northern Bahamian islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco inevitably moves on to other things.
About a month after the storm, Mike DeHaven and I touched down in Freeport after a short Bahamasair flight from Nassau.
The airport terminal was completely destroyed. Baggage handling equipment, seats, and security screening conveyor belts were strewn around the broken walls of the terminal building. A bus waiting on the tarmac drove us a couple of miles to a tent in the parking lot of a strip mall. During the bus ride, we met some nurses from Samaritan’s Purse. They were there to staff a field hospital that had been set up behind Freeport’s main hospital—which was knocked out of service.
Ken Lane, Pastor of the EPC’s Lucaya Presbyterian Church in Freeport, met us at the bus.
We toured some of the areas of Grand Bahama most affected by the hurricane, and saw piles of destroyed furniture and debris in front of every home. Broken utility poles and downed power lines blocked some of the streets, and the smell of brush fires lingered in the air. Ocean water from storm surge had killed much of the grass and foliage, and that dry brush had recently caught fire. Flames came dangerously close to Lucaya’s food distribution ministry, which had previously flooded. Despite the hardships, they have provided thousands of pounds of food, cleaning supplies, and military style, freeze-dried MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat).
We also visited a non-governmental organization (NGO) that was distributing 22,000 meals per day, and had served about half a million meals total since the storm hit. That was only one of two such NGOs we saw in Freeport.
After the tour, Ken took us to meet some of the elders and members of the Lucaya congregation. Sarah is one of these faithful church members, and she is a long-time volunteer in the children’s ministry.
For several hours we listened to them describe their homes being flooded, the floors moving with the ocean waves, their apartments swaying with the hurricane winds, and their fear that they would be overcome by the storm. They showed us videos of waves crashing over balconies and into the second-floor windows of their homes. They talked of their prayers, their faith in the Lord to deliver them, God’s generous kindness, and His blessings on their lives and families. Though many had the thousand-yard stare common to those suffering from the effects of PTSD, they are amazed that the storm spared their church building and are hoping that electricity can be restored soon to the many homes that remain without power.
The Grand Bahama Children’s Home in Freeport has been closed. While the structure itself is sound, the contents are a total loss—including the possessions of its 32 resident children, who range in age from a few months to 14 years old. They were evacuated in the middle of the night during the storm, and now have been temporarily relocated to the Ranfurly Homes for Children in Nassau. These children’s homes have a connection to our churches in Lucaya and Nassau. Additionally, a large group of toddler-aged children were moved from Grand Bahama to the Children’s Emergency Hostel in Nassau.
And we were told that they share Sarah’s concern that people will begin to forget about them after the news media has stopped running stories on the Bahamas.
After spending the night in Freeport, Chrishon Ducker (Associate Pastor of the EPC’s St. Andrews Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau) took us to visit the areas of Nassau that have tried to absorb the influx of those evacuated from Abaco, which included the devastated town of Marsh Harbor. Some of these evacuees are living in the St. Andrews building.
“Abaco recovery still remains a military operation,” he told us. “The British Army just left, the Bahamian Defense Force, the Trinidad and Tobago Army, as well as the Jamaican Army are still patrolling the area around Marsh Harbor and providing for immediate needs.”
Gabe Swing, Pastor of the EPC’s Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor, is visiting displaced members of that congregation who have evacuated to Florida. Swing is an Associate Pastor of St. Andrew’s, responsible for serving the mission post in Marsh Harbor that is Kirk of the Pines.
“Bahamas recovery is going to be a long-term process,” Bryn MacPhail, Pastor of St. Andrews, told us. “We will need help for a minimum of several years, and the clock hasn’t even started yet. We’re still assessing the damage.”
While a full recovery in some areas is likely several years away, there are many, many short-term needs that EPC churches can help meet through continued financial contributions to the EPC’s Emergency Relief Fund. In Freeport, Ken told me that by next summer they expect to be able to host short-term mission teams of moderately skilled individuals, especially those with skills in the building trades.
Marsh Harbor will probably not be ready for mission trip teams that soon, but we encourage our EPC “prayer warriors” to pray for Bryn, Gabe, Ken, and their church leaders as they continue to seek discernment about how they can help with the rebuilding of Marsh Harbour. And please continue to pray for Sarah and the thousands of Bahamians like her.
If you are considering a mission trip or have skill in the building trades, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mike DeHaven coordinated our trip, and also led mission teams to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. He is working with our churches in the Bahamas to help put together future mission trips to help with the recovery effort.
The EPC’s newest Spanish-speaking congregation launched in Huntersville, N.C., on Sunday, September 8. Iglesia Lake Forest: El Buen Samaritano is a plant of the Lake Forest family of churches and is led by Victor Leal and his wife, Rosmi.
The congregation, whose name translates to “Lake Forest Church: The Good Samaritan” is fruit of the partnership between the EPC and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (La Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana de México or INPM), and a financial church-planting partnership between Lake Forest Church and the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic.
“We consider El Buen Samaritano an example of the EPC’s ‘Revelation 7:9’ vision for serving every tribe and language in our own country with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Mike Moses, Lead Pastor of Lake Forest Church-Huntersville and Moderator of the EPC’s 35th General Assembly.
The Leals came to Lake Forest in 2016 from Seminario Teológico Presbiteriano de México (the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of Mexico) in Mexico City.
“They have been living in the fast-growing Latino immigrant community of north Charlotte for more than a year, building relationships and leading the ministry of the resource center that our Lake Forest opened in 2017 in the key neighborhood of this population,” Moses noted. “The resource center—Centro de Recursos—is a platform for tutoring ministries, immigration law counseling, community police meetings, and much more. Victor and Rosmi have built trust in the neighborhood by actively caring for the physical and social needs of local families, and now they are trusted to lead people spiritually.”
On Launch Sunday, Rosmi led worship and Victor preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10.
“The theme was powerful,” Moses said. “Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, the immigrant community in the U.S. today may feel as though they are suspect and objects of disrespect. However, Jesus emphasized that they are in fact as capable as anyone of exemplifying God’s Kingdom and God’s will by reaching out to serve others. And of course, Victor spoke the gospel—that Jesus is all of our ‘Good Samaritan’ who meets our deepest needs and pays the price for our healing through the cross and the resurrection.”
El Buen Samaritano is the fourth member of the Lake Forest family of churches, which includes congregations in Davidson, Huntersville, and Westlake, N.C. Lake Forest seeks to plant one new congregation every two to three years.
EPC Teaching Elder Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, were among the featured speakers at the Missio Nexus “Future Mission” Mission Leaders Conference, held September 19-21 in Orlando, Fla.
In a question-and-answer session, the Brunsons discussed their time in Turkey prior to their detainment on October 7, 2016, as well as their journey between October 2016 and Andrew’s release from prison on October 12, 2018.
In his keynote address, Andrew shared thoughts on working with Muslims, based on his nearly 25 years of church planting among Muslim people groups in Turkey.
Missio Nexus is a the largest association of Great Commission-oriented evangelical churches and organizations in North America that focuses on the global Great Commission. Announced registration for the 2019 Mission Leaders Conference was 1,001.
by Case Thorp
Moderator of the 39th General Assembly
JAKARTA, INDONESIA—The World Reformed Fellowship, a global association of evangelical Reformed Christians, met in Jakarta in August for its quadrennial General Assembly. This four-day gathering of 68 denominations and more than 162 affiliate organizations from 25 countries includes worship, workshops, and excursions to area ministry projects. The chosen location is no accident, both for being in the world’s largest Muslim democracy and as home to one of the largest Reformed churches in the world—the Messiah Cathedral founded by evangelist Stephen Tong.
EPC Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri and I attended the gathering. What struck me, as a first-time attendee, were the topics of conversation and the diminishing emphasis of those past concerns that seemed to rob all of our imaginations. This is not to say that the old concerns were not important, but rather they served more as distractions from those things that our congregants were dealing with in their day-to-day lives. I heard nary a word on Roman Catholicism, immorality, or threats to biblical authority. The progressive mainline Protestant denominations from which these church bodies originated are a distant afterthought for these leaders.
However, like a breath of fresh air, the speakers focused on the current and future concerns of our times: the global refugee crisis, the decline of Western civilization, the rise of Islam, the challenges technology presents, political instability in various places worldwide, the development of leadership, the health of our institutions, and more. These emphases demonstrate a maturity and confidence for the evangelical Reformed church to strive forward as change agents.
The desire is not just to speak of these things in the theoretical, but also seek to figure out what sustainable solutions might look like. We toured a ministry that serves refugees, which is operated by the Lippo Group’s James Riady, the billionaire convicted in the 1996 Clinton campaign scandal prior to his conversion to Christianity. When 1,400 Afghans, Somalis, Iranians, and Iraqis became stuck in Indonesia on their way to Australia, Riady stepped up to meet the need. Within two weeks, he had a community center set up to educate the children and assist with healthcare through one of his hospitals, free of charge.
Besides Riady’s moving work, conference conversations wrestled with the tension between love and order: how do you grieve for the horrific human suffering while at the same time lobbying leaders to create laws, systems, and strategies to stem the flow of people groups? The status quo is not acceptable or sustainable for these leaders, who have many questions and no easy answers.
The decline of the West is not only on the lips of the Scots and Americans, but certainly our Asian, African, and Latin counterparts. The rise of China, the perceived American political instability, and the sexual and gender revolution occurring around us alarm and puzzle many. China’s dominance and aggression is much more acutely felt here, and American political discourse is all the more silly when seen from abroad. A fundamental example of Western decline is the abandonment societies are taking with concern to personhood.
The halls of the World Reformed Fellowship nervously echo with debate of a newly emerging anthropology. What makes a person a person? What is permeable or constant for a person illustrates the disparity between a Christian idea of a human and a postmodern view being embraced socially and ensconced legally.
Christian theology, upon which the Western tradition bases its ideas of human rights, democracy, and contractual arrangements, teaches a human to be divinely created, made in the image of God, marred by sin leading to bad choices, redeemable by faith in Jesus, and charged to share the love of Christ with others in word and deed. The Western embrace of abortion, same-sex marriage, transgender rights, and euthanasia, not to mention to bubbling frontier of genetic engineering, tells us there is no consensus of what a person is and what is best for them. Social and political domination, sometimes to the point of violence, is necessary to advocate one group’s vision for humanity over another. How evangelicals will teach their own contra-social anthropology to their people, and then present it as a better alternative to the community, is a great challenge requiring further thought and strategy. But there seems to me to be a glaring need for us to “pivot” and do just that.
One speaker, a Hong Kong pastor and theology professor, told of the role of Christians in the ongoing street protests in his city as he struggled to balance the role of violence for the followers of Jesus, and the place of pursuing justice at the risk of social disorder. He echoed his own personal conclusion about his role with the protests, a statement that embodied much of the tenor of the World Reformed Fellowship. He said, “We have to be with our sheep. And our sheep are out there.”
The debates of the last century, which form a comfortable stereotype for others about evangelicals, are fully behind us, and we look now to be with our sheep, and be out there.
Case Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk in Nassau, Bahamas, has partnered with McDonald’s for the past nine years to provide backpacks and school supplies to children in several neighborhoods near the church in downtown Nassau.
“One of my favorite traditions at St. Andrew’s Kirk is our back-to-school initiative in Bain and Grant’s Town,” said Bryn MacPhail, Pastor of St. Andrew’s. “We have deep affection for, and genuine interest in, the children of this community. We aspire to show our neighbors the love of Christ, and we are grateful for the opportunity that this event presents for us to demonstrate this.”
The backpacks were filled with books, pens, pencils, and other materials. Children who received the backpacks attend the St. Andrew’s Sunday School and Big Harvest Community Sunday School.
Earla Bethel, St. Andrew’s Clerk of Session, is the president of DanBrad Limited, the parent company of McDonald’s in Nassau.
“When a carpenter heads out to a job he usually always has his hammer, tape measure, and square,” Bethel said. “It is equally important that our children in the communities we serve are not disadvantaged by their socioeconomic status, but placed on equal footing through these donations. McDonald’s is very proud to assist the students of Big Harvest and St. Andrew’s Kirk as they both provide a framework for establishing spiritual values and mentorship and focus on education through after-school programs and tutoring. We look forward to each and every child achieving success in the upcoming school year.”
“It’s a tremendous blessing,” said John Ferguson, Big Harvest Sunday School’s superintendent and Nassau’s retired assistant commissioner of police. “It augers well not only for the community, but it allows us to enhance what we’re doing in the inner city through this donation to assist the underprivileged and at-risk youth. We are very grateful for Ms. Bethel and DanBrad Limited, and we appreciate what they’ve done and what they’re doing and we appreciate them including Big Harvest in this gracious donation.”
Commonwealth Bank in Nassau joined the McDonald’s-St. Andrew’s partnership this year, earmarking 150 of the 10,000 backpacks it distributes annually to the cause.