Embracing the Uniqueness of a Calling

By Rev. Eric White, Pastor at Venture Church, Austintown, OH  

Sometimes my path into ministry seems accidental. My faith knows better. I pastor Venture Church of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which I lovingly and simply call Venture. When I tell people I pastor a small church in Austintown, they often ask if I’m an associate pastor, youth pastor, worship pastor, etc, to which I reply, “I’m the only pastor.” The context where I’m usually asked about my pastoral work leads people to think I’m probably not a senior or lead pastor. Thus they ask what kind of pastor I am. That context is within my full-time career as the Director of Command Information for a local Air Force Reserve base. I’m bivocational.

Bivocational is a word that implies more than it ought. It seems the common perception is that bivocational people work half of one vocation and half of another, equalling one full vocation. Something like a 20 hours/20 hours split on the workweek. My Air Force career is not half of a vocation. I’m also convinced that there is no such thing as a part-time pastor, and perhaps that’s especially true for one whose most accurate title is “the only pastor.”

When I first stepped into ministry—and by stepped I mean tripped backward over my own heels down a rocky slope while blindfolded with little experience and only half a year of Bible college education at the nudge of a God who knows far more about His ways than I do—there was a question that often bothered me. Many brothers and sisters in Christ asked it, and they meant no harm, but it sometimes grated on me for reasons I didn’t understand. It had many iterations but generally went something like this: “So when do you think you’ll transition into full-time ministry?” Young in my calling, I often interpreted the question as, “So when are you going to grow up and fully commit yourself to the church?” I know my interpretation was woefully unfair, but it has caused me to consider why we often, whether consciously or unconsciously, pigeonhole the call of ministry into traditional patterns.

My answer to the question has always been the same. I don’t know. I don’t know when God will transition me into having ministry as my only vocation. Frankly, I’m not remotely convinced He’s ever going to transition me (reference my earlier statement about God knowing far more about His ways than I do). I would not suggest to my monovocational (if bivocational is a word, surely monovocational is acceptable) pastor friends that they pick up another job. That decision should be made in the wisdom of the Father. But I do want to offer a few of the benefits I experience in the call God has given me in the hope that it might encourage others who are living a unique Kingdom call (and isn't that all of us?).

1.  The Body as the Body

When I assumed a leadership role at Venture, it was ready to close. We were 20 or so faithful folks in a sanctuary built for 300. The church avoided closure only through the very generous giving of a few people. The church could not afford a full-time pastor. The only way to sustain the church’s ministry was to find someone who had other means to pay his bills. I can’t explain why, but that person was me. God knows more about His ways than I do, remember? From my first days of leadership, I made it very clear that I could not and would not do everything that needed done. For this undertaking to succeed, the church would have to be the church, the Body of Christ, operating in unity to advance God’s Kingdom. That remains a significant tenet of the vision I cast today. I will lead, but I will not attempt to be a ministerial superman. The church must be the church. No excuses. No finger pointing. The great thing about this is that it's working. We're still growing, but we're seeing the body step out as the body in powerful ways.

2. Access to Missional Platforms

I admire our district's focus on missional living. It's modeled after Jesus. As a bivocational pastor, I spend at least 40 hours a week in the workplace connecting with people who need Jesus. I love spending so much time in a local mission field. Early in my pastorate, I often talked about the benefit of being in the mission field rather than the church office every day. The words sounded good, but an examination of my life would have revealed that I wasn't practicing missional living in my career (or anywhere else). The Holy Spirit challenged me. In repenting and trusting Jesus, I've enjoyed considerable progress. I've been able to share the Gospel with several people and have developed some powerful discipleship relationships. The beauty is that the developing relationships part of missional living is handed to me daily through my work relations. God leading me through this transformation has given me a platform for discipling the flock with which I'm entrusted in how to live missionally by leveraging their existing circumstances to build Kingdom-centric relationships.

3. Called to Depend

Ministry is hard. I should scarcely think anyone will read this who thinks otherwise. I do not think the difficulty increases for bivocational pastors, but the reason may be a paradox. What is often different for a bivocational pastor is time. When planning each week, begin by subtracting 47.5 hours (including commute and lunch breaks in my case) from the amount of time you can devote directly to the church. I specify church ministry, because under these circumstances there is abundant time for missional living and relational ministry. Even so, I've often said that none of us is as busy as we say we are. It’s more likely that we don't manage our energy very well. This reduced time forces me nearer the reality that I am woefully inadequate for the mantle I wear. Jesus is the only hope I have of doing anything meaningful for the Kingdom of God.

I’ve come to find that the less I am able to depend upon myself or my circumstances, the more I must depend upon Jesus. The more I depend upon Jesus, the more success I see in ministry. This is the paradox I mentioned earlier. It is precisely because time is so limited that ministry, in a strange sense, is no more difficult as a bivocational pastor. Matthew 11:28-30 helps illuminate this. Of course, none of this is to say people who don't have two jobs or aren't very busy can’t depend on Jesus equally or to a greater degree. I’m merely speaking of a personal correlation between an ample supply of time and an ignorance to my need to depend fully on Jesus. Perhaps you’ve noticed a similar one. Only when there is less of me can there be more of Him. I struggle with self-dependency enough even with these time restrictions. I can't imagine the malady it'd be for me if I had more time. Lord, I need thee every hour, especially because the hours are so few!

Embracing the Call

I struggled with my call early on. I felt caught in limbo between two worlds, my career and my calling. God eventually showed me that they're both part of my calling, for a calling is not constrained to a particular platform, time, or place. My call is to serve God's Kingdom by empowering people to experience the full measure of Christ's love and life, whether at work, Church, home, my neighborhood, or the dairy aisle. Who am I to say that can or should only happen in the context of full-time, vocational, pastoral ministry? A mentor, perceiving my tension between career and calling, liberated my thinking with a powerful challenge. He encouraged me to consider how Venture would function with 1000 people if I was still serving bivocationally and to begin laying the groundwork for that now. Will God do it? I don't know. Will He bring a harvest and call me to leave my career behind? I don't know. Will He have me continue serving this way, and perhaps, one day, mentor young pastors in balancing bivocational ministry? I don't know.

What I do know is that God is faithful, and I am embracing His call.

Why Haiti?

By Josh and Jodi Garber, (Pastor at North-Mar Church, Warren, OH)

Good question, one we’ve been asked a lot since we stepped out in faith in this adoption journey.

Haiti is not a country to which Josh or I have any connection. When we thought of the possibility of international adoption, we assumed it would most likely be a country in Africa because we both have connections in different countries there.

I had been asking God to have an adoption agency contact us and within 24 hours of my latest prayer, I received an email from an agency we had contacted a couple years ago when we lived in Pennsylvania.  They needed families for some of their international programs. I began emailing back and forth, trying to figure out the eligible programs for us. It came down to Haiti or India.

So, I began praying over these 2 countries asking God which one… it didn’t seem like either one could be a wrong choice. 

As I was praying and waiting for an answer, God began to remind me of some of the ways He had answered our questions about where and when to adopt.

When we lived in Pennsylvania, I had asked God who we should adopt and He said, “The least of these.”  I asked Him what that meant.  Who were the least of these in the context of my prayer?

As we talked with the international adoption agency, the case manager told us that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  The phrase “the least of these” came back to my mind. Then one day while I was driving the song “Kings and Queens” by Audio Adrenaline came on the radio.  When I got home I looked up the song and watched the music video.  It is filmed in Haiti and the focus is precious Haitian children.  The words “When we love, when we love the least of these” reaffirmed what God was telling me. 

I knew what God was asking and I thought it was too hard.  Adopting from Haiti is very expensive.  Josh is a pastor and I am primarily a stay at home mom with some side gigs.  Haiti is a 2-trip country, and I do not like that.  The wait to adopt a child from Haiti is long, and I do not like waiting.  I wanted to bring another child into our family years ago.  But God had a different plan.  

I went to talk to Josh about adopting from Haiti after our kids had gone to bed one night.  I thought Josh would see things like I did and see it was too hard.  But do you know what he said?  He said, “If this is what God wants us to do, we’ll do it.”  And so I cried…a lot.  I went over all my reasons with Josh as to why this was impossible.  Josh was being so chill.  He said, “If God wants us to do this, He will provide.”  I was reminded how the previous summer at the end of one of our pastor’s sermons he had said, “Ask God to do something you think is impossible in your life.”  I had asked God to make an impossible adoption possible.

I was so afraid to take the first step, and so I asked God for one more sign that we should start the path to adopt from Haiti (I know I was being like Gideon here).  I did not know how long we would wait for His answer.  But I had asked for Haiti to be seen or heard in a big way.  Within 48 hours, it was all over the news…. a (alleged) comment had been made about Haiti by someone pretty high up in the U.S. government.  I heard and saw HAITI in a big way.

The next day we submitted our application and the first of many payments.   We are now a little over a year into the process since submitting the application.   Every time a payment has been due, God has provided through family, friends, church family, or friends of friends.  He has given me a friend also adopting from Haiti!  She has been a tremendous emotional support during this season.  

Now we wait…some days patiently, some days not so patiently, praying for God to make the impossible possible!

To learn more and to donate , click here.

Living on Mission

by Rev. Rick Toburen, Coordinator of Ordination & Consecration

Jesus tells us to go and make disciples.  This is done more naturally at the work place, with neighbors, extended family and recreation venues.  However, God may give us a Phillip with the Ethiopian eunuch experience (Acts 8).  God did that while my wife and I were on vacation last month in Cancun.  Despite our fears and feelings of inadequacies in sharing the Gospel, we prayed for missional opportunities.  God answered that prayer in three very specific ways:

1.        As we were travelling with another couple on an excursion to some Mayan ruins, we began a conversation with them that led to a Gospel presentation.  They asked us what church we were with and we told them that we were with a small denomination of which they probably never heard.  Would you believe the husband was raised in the C&MA but was currently not active?  We had an opportunity to encourage them in their faith and encourage them to reconnect with the church.

2.       At one of our dinners, we sat next to a couple and their son from Norway.  We discovered that the dad had a mitral valve repair two years ago just like mine but had some complications.  They were very encouraged to hear that my repair had lasted for 17 years.  We learned on the first day of their vacation that his wife hit her knee, causing it to become very swollen.  My wife and I started praying for more opportunities with this family.  Later that day, my wife, who is a physical therapist, saw the mom sitting at the pool and began talking with her about her knee.  We asked if we could pray for her.  She was very open to this and while we prayed, we noticed her tears.  They are not very religious but very interested in spiritual things.  We’re praying that they would see God at work in their lives and be drawn to Him by His Spirit.

3.       On the flight home I sat next to a businessman.  We talked about spiritual things and his family.  We learned that he had never been married, married a divorced woman with two kids, and they had one more together.  I am a divorced man with three kids, married a woman who had never been married and had two more together!  Go figure, we had the similar but opposite blended families!!  However, it did not end there.  It turns out his wife grew up with my wife on the same street, went to the same church, and their families had been friends during their childhood and high school years!!  The man was already a believer but he could easily see God in all these circumstances and he is considering a closer walk with his Lord!!!

God certainly answered our prayers in ways that we would never have imagined!  I wonder if Philip prayed like that when he was led to that desert road??

Showing the Love and Grace of Christ as we minister through sports

by Pastor Dan Burd, Impact Sports

The following is a parent’s testimony of our Savior’s love and grace working through Mpact Sports Ministry:

Today we played in a tournament at Oakvale Elementary. During the tournament, some kids from another team decided it would be fun to destroy an entire classroom! Fortunately they were caught and forced to clean up the mess. The parents from Mpact stepped up to help, even though they had to miss their kids play the rest of the tournament. We scrubbed and cleaned more paint than you can imagine, while working alongside the boys who vandalized the room. After the tournament was over, a few kids and parents even stayed to finish the cleanup. I watched teachers encourage these boys to change their lives. We offered them prayer and told them it wasn’t too late for them to start making better choices. My son even stepped up to the plate to help and got to be a part of sharing God’s love and grace to these boys.

The principal at the school had this to say:

Hello, this is LaCosta Hodges. I am the principal at Oakvale Elementary. I just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the help your team and parents provided to us yesterday. Your kindness is appreciated more than you will ever know. God shows his love through people like you! Your team stepped up to make a terrible situation better when it was no fault of your own. We love our school and we couldn’t have cleaned that mess up as quickly as we did if we didn’t have your help. Please pass along our thanks and love to all your team members and parents. God blesses us in ways we never expect…you were our blessing.

Thank you for praying and supporting such a great ministry in our area of Southern West Virginia.

Move the Mountains

by Sara Pierce

Sara is married to Mike who has served as the Dover Alliance Youth Pastor for nine years. This is part of their adoption story written in May 2017 with an added update.

2012 ~ We started working with an agency to adopt a little boy from Ghana, Africa. A year later, Ghana ceased all adoption processes. For so long, we had heard things would change “soon”....and then a few months later...”soon” again....and so on. We had never felt released from that country and so we stayed and endured the constant speculation and frustration and unknown.

 April 2016 ~ We heard from our agency that they would stay open in Ghana as long as there were families wanting to adopt, but it looked like policies within the country might not change. We began to pray again for God's leading. Are you telling us to move on Lord? Is this it for Ghana? Is this it for our adoption journey? Through lots of prayer and conversations with trusted family and friends we made the decision to transfer out of Ghana. Our agency even agreed to give us a refund of monies that were not used yet. This was a huge praise and unexpected blessing!

 Africa was still our heart's desire so we began to look at other African countries with stable adoption programs. We chose Ethiopia so not only did we switch countries, we also had to switch agencies. Through the transition process, we were told we would have to redo ALL of our paperwork. We had done it before and knew how long it took. We also had to start over financially which included some initial large expenses and application fees.

 Because of some paperwork issues, it took quite a bit longer to finish our Home Study than it had the previous time. We knew we could not even get on the list for a child until that was complete. There was a feeling of anxiety every time I read an email saying another correction was needed and thus another week would go by as our adoption agency worked through it all. Finally, we were able to be put on the waiting family list.

 October 18, 2016 ~ A day that forever changed our family. After four years of waiting, we received "THE CALL!" A little boy needed a family and he was to be ours if we said yes. I told our case manager I would talk it over with my husband (who was in Colorado for a conference). We needed to decide whether to say yes to this little boy or wait for a sibling group - which was what we had been hoping and approved for. 

 Between Mike's meetings and my schedule....we didn't get to discuss this until 10:00pm! What a day of waiting it had been. It was so awesome to see God working. I had a few conversations with my parents and Mike was able to talk with his good friend who was at the conference. Both of these conversations were bathed in very similar prayer that completely spoke to our hearts. We came together unified and ready to jump on board!

 The only hiccup was a $19,000 referral fee due in just two weeks. We were a bit shaken by this amount and had moments of panic. We knew we couldn’t do it alone and trusted God to provide.  When this process first started, we had said that we wanted God to be glorified through the whole thing; that whatever happened along the journey He would be praised through our lives and our responses. To God’s glory we were able to raise even more than the $19,000 in just ten days! I don't think I've ever cried so many tears of joy in one week! Thank you to all who supported us in that. May this journey be a testament to God's provision and faithfulness.

 Fast forward a few months: while we continued to do paperwork, we received updates on our little guy. We saw pictures of him taking his first steps (fabulous and heartbreaking at the same time). We saw his big beautiful eyes and witnessed his constant growth.

 We had applied for multiple grants over the past few years and every time an organization called and said they had chosen to give us money, we were shocked. God continues to fund our travel costs and our orphanage fees while we wait to go pick up our son.

 April 2017: We had a bit of a scare when we were told that adoptions in Ethiopia were going to cease immediately. Not again! We had been down this path before and it did not end well. We were heartbroken, angry and confused.  Then we found out three days later that it was mostly a misunderstanding. How that's even possible, we still don't know! We chose to continue to trust in God's plan, which is a little easier to do now than it was those three days when we thought maybe we would never get to bring our son home.

 I have clung to a verse in Isaiah 55 that says 'My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts says the Lord. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.' I have wrestled through the question,

·         What if God's thoughts are for us to not have another child through adoption?

·         What if God's thoughts are for us to wait another few years until adding to our family?

·         What if God is thinking completely different thoughts than we are and we don't know what God is thinking or why we've been on this journey for what seems like an eternity.

But two things we know... God is in it, and He is good!

 May 2017 ~ We submitted our papers to the court system, meaning in Ethiopia our name was officially linked to our little guy's! We still had 5-7 months to wait for the remaining parts of the process; however, Mike and I both feel a sense of anticipation that had been lacking.

 We have seen God move mountains and we are waiting expectantly to watch Him do it again.

October 2017 update ~ We got word in September that our court date will be October 31! We will be leaving for Ethiopia on October 24 with our children Gabe and Avery. We hope to be home by November 17. It's hard to wrap my mind around the fact that what we have been waiting for so long is about to happen. In less than two weeks we will get to see Jakobi for the first time face to face, to hold and kiss his little cheeks, to hear him laugh and cry. The magnitude of God's faithfulness and provision has completely overwhelmed us. God is in it and He is good!

Susan Williams shares her own Kingdom Story about her personal battle with cancer (8/29/2017)

Part one:  Sucker-punched

 Never thought I’d end up in Cleveland, but here we are! February of 2014 my husband Jack and I bounced across the state line with our stuff; moving from western PA to Willoughby Hills in a blast of winter.  We were here to make our home with the smiling faces of the Maplegrove Alliance congregation. I’ve always liked snow, but it was bitter.

We had done some serious “purging of stuff” but we still had lots to unload, unpack and arrange in our new house. We also came with another load: I had just received a diagnosis of breast cancer, ten years out from a first diagnosis and treatment on the other side. The cancer, I was told, was not invasive like the first time and I didn’t have to rush to address it. That was somewhat of a relief, so we settled in getting to know our new friends, anticipating this new beginning.  Our first grandchild arrived soon after!!

As I began the process of finding new doctors and deciding on treatment, I insisted on having a full body scan because of some concerns over other symptoms. One phone call changes everything—again. My new oncologist spoke matter-of-factly and just hit me in the face: “you have stage four cancer which has metastasized to your skeletal frame. There is no cure. We can only manage your disease.”  In the days to follow he said, “You are going to die of breast cancer, travel while you can.” It was another bitter day in Cleveland.

Jack and I were so bewildered and confused and angry, groping for answers…and desperate for understanding. Of course we came in faith believing that we were led here to partner with this special group of believers; to help grow the church, to embrace this new opportunity set before us.  Here we are, a few months later, staggering around like we had been sucker-punched again and again. I have had days in the past three years of crying out with great rocking sobs saying to God: “you have brought me here to die! Without family. My granddaughter will not know me. I am only 57 and I have all these personal dreams that I have set aside to serve you God. This is so unfair!!”

People of faith wrestle with seemingly great contradictions. Of course we say, “If you can heal me, why don’t you? If you brought me here was it really to give me a ‘future with hope’? You really confuse me, God!”  However, stripped down I am daily brought face to face, to see myself as I am. Pain reveals us and in our desperate clutching for God in our weakness, He is revealed. Unlike happy days, He speaks into the darkness of my fears and tantrums - and I know He is.

  • He is in the love of our church family.

  • He is in so many fervent prayers of faith from so many people, known and unknown.

  • He is in the knowledge that has been confirmed in my spirit that He has indeed led me here.

  • He is in the radiant, unexpected smile of a stranger (angel).

  • He is greater than my fears.

  • He is “before me and by him my life is held together.”

 Part Two:  Hard Fought

 As I continue this cancer journey, there is a road I have intersected in my travels and its name piques my interest:  It is simply named “Fought.” It evokes an enormous curiosity within:  what is the back story for this road? Was there an early weapons battle in this area? Or, maybe some feisty neighbors disputed a property line? However it all went down, that name “fought” tells a lot. It marks a spot where there was some sort of engagement.

I’m sitting in my doctor’s office next to his computer desk and he pulls up the pictures of the disease process in my body. Everything in my spirit and mind resists the reality of those images. The prayers of faith, the reassurance from many that believe God is going to heal me of cancer, the words of scripture that I read and re-read. Like cognitive dissonance I am battling two opposing truths and sets of reality at one time. This engagement of the body, mind and spirit is HARD FOUGHT. These x-rays mark the spot.

As I scrutinize the problem with pain and my own struggle, I think it is simply that the problem with pain is…pain! We don’t want it! Pain is like a rabid, mangy animal prowling around—we don’t want to adopt it. Life is hard fought: in ministry, in family life and relationship, in the limitations of our bodies, in the realm of our engagement in the battle between good and evil.

 The CAT scan images combine a series of x-rays taken from different angles to create cross-section views or slices of bones, blood vessels and soft tissue. This process of the scrutiny of physical disease has led me to see more clearly the work of God in the supernatural. Like a photomontage where layering images creates an enhanced view or a new background from the blending of unlikely images, the Spirit of God dissects and discerns and recreates. Our struggles add layers of dimension in our spiritual journey. Unlikely and incompatible elements converge: fear, then faith; despair, then hope; tears of joy, tears of release, tears of pain, and as they come together there is a new background emerging. God superimposes his Spirit, his message, his strength - the hidden colors of heaven.

Our trials reveal hidden things rooted in dark places, but trials also give up gifts, treasures, sometimes—a beckoning toward another hidden place. We don’t always have to be diminished by our pain. It reveals strong love and loyalty and courage and weakness made strong. I think I am learning that when “we are discerned” perhaps we discover what to let go of, what to embrace, how to love more genuinely; these are jewels of understanding.

On one night I kneel at the window in my bedroom and look up into the dark sky and say, “God, I know you are there!” And in that soft, dreamy moment He presents in the darkness, drawing up the moon as if on a silver cord and I behold Him! He is indeed there.

Part Three:  Waiting on the Sunrise

I have a vivid childhood memory of a family trip to an old sea fort in NJ.  It was intriguing:  Stone-gray dirty and damp fortress walls.  We ran around exploring, imagining.  I also remember feeling a clamp on my spirit, a bit of fear, which I did not understand.  When my dada announced it was time to go, we were expected to follow back to the van, five kids climbing over each other to get inside.  My oldest sister chose to take her time and complicate the departure.  So my dada decided to teach her a lesson by driving away without her.  I still see the horror on her face as she ran as fast as she could in the dust of the wheels, afraid to be left behind, abandoned to that cold, dark fortress.  Of course we turned around and retrieved her, but that moment of abandonment was impressed on her spirit and mine as I witnessed her desperation from the rear van window.  I could barely breathe as I felt the panic and fear in her.

Life’s hard trials sometimes lock us in a cold, barren-like fort and our pain is lonely and desperate and we may feel forgotten, left behind, abandoned, and barely breathing.  Whether it’s a broken body or a broken spirit, or many challenges hitting us at the same time, hardship often separates us from a certain rhythm of life.  Two quotes from Winnie the Pooh reveal a lot:  “Just because you hear a buzzing-noise coming from a tree doesn’t mean you’re going to get any honey.”  And, “Good friends will stick with you until you’re unstuck.”  We received some new family members after marriage and shortly after I sat over coffee and sweets getting to know Martha.  She asked me questions about myself, probing with interest, and at one point related to my health challenges, she simply said to me, “are you afraid?”  It was one of the best gifts I have been given!  She acknowledged the “spot where I’m stuck.”  And in choosing to see me in that moment, she validated my struggle.  I think we should practice being more real.  Better listeners, with eyes that see, with ears that hear, with hearts that understand.

Christ was real.  The prophet Isaiah describes how he looked in very graphic words: “He was a man of sorrows and grief was written on his face” (53:30).  “People looked away because he was disfigured and they were disgusted with his appearance” (52:14).  The burden of life and what he endured to identify with the human experience clearly emaciated him.  He was harnessed to suffering.  The dark night of his soul found him lonely in a garden with friends disengaged from the contest, so he makes a desperate clutch for them to sit with him in spirit, to be present in the darkness (Matthew 26:38).  He pleads with God the Father to release him from pain, then stays on assignment, for broken people.  He cries loud, aching prayers and looks right in to the spirit of men and women and understand their stories.  He was real.  He gets life.  He gets me.  He sticks with me until I’m unstuck.  I want to be like Him!  “His candle shines on my head and by His light I go through darkness” (Job 29:30).  And so I sit and wait, with Jesus, for the Sunrise.

A Testimony of Healing

By Kelly Winn, wife of Rev. Aaron Winn, Whipple Heights Alliance Church, Canton, OH

Freshwater Church hosted a Holy Spirit Weekend with Dr. Rob Reimer in October. Rob Reimer's books include Soul Care, Deep Faith, River Dwellers, and Pathways to the King. He is the Professor of Pastoral Theology at Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, NY. 

Kelly attended that weekend. Here is her testimony from her encounter with God:

I’ve always been told that I am an energetic person. I’ve used that energy to pack my schedule with activities that I love. In 2008, I was a healthy thirty-one year old, ten years into marriage, and five years into motherhood. I worked full-time during the day and taught dance classes in a neighborhood studio for several hours most evenings. In addition, I was part of a church-planting team, leading worship, working with the youth, and teaching kids classes every week.


In October of 2008, I developed severe pain in my chest and extreme fatigue. I was diagnosed with pleurisy (inflammation of the lungs). I had blood drawn and was sent home with pain pills. The blood work results came back later that week revealing I had an autoimmune disease and I was advised to find a rheumatologist. This started my journey with a chronic illness.

Throughout the last ten years, this disease has attacked my body, resulting in joint weakness, joint pain, difficulty in thinking clearly, eye degeneration, etc. But the most difficult symptom by far has been  severe, debilitating chronic fatigue. On good days, I have to carefully budget energy just to make it through the day. From the moment I wake up, every single task from brushing my teeth, to washing my hair, to packing a lunch has to be measured against its cost to my limited energy supply. Failure to budget carefully leaves me empty by mid-day or triggers a flare up. On bad days, I am simply unable to get out of bed. Just last month I had a flare up so severe that I was bedridden for several days. Chronic fatigue has been the hardest part of my struggle with this disease and this past year has left me feeling especially "withered" spiritually. When you can’t even get out of bed, it’s hard to feel valuable. In June, as Aaron and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary, the realization hit me: from this point on, we would live more of our married life with a chronic disease than without.


This summer, God prompted me to seek out a mentor to help me cope with some of the struggles I was feeling. A trusted friend who is on her journey with Jesus, agreed to meet with me weekly. She pointed me to a book titled Soul Care by Rob Reimer. God started to use this small book to minister to me. Then Aaron and I heard that the author was hosting a retreat weekend in the area and we knew I needed to be there. I cancelled all my classes for the weekend (I still teach full time during the day and at a studio in the evenings) and booked a hotel, even though the conference was only thirty minutes from home, so I could focus and really rest in God’s grace.

The conference was titled “Holy Spirit Weekend” and consisted of three sessions: Friday night was all about unpacking the sin in our lives to make room for the Holy Spirit to work in and through us; Saturday morning focused on hearing from God in order to minister to others; and Saturday afternoon centered around healing. Based on what I know about church and conferences like this, I figured there would probably be a time for prayers of healing. I had already decided that I was not going to ask people to pray for my healing. I wanted to be part of the team praying for others and see God work in that way. My goal for the weekend was to hear God speak in some way and connect with Him on a deeper level than I had before.

There was a woman near me who had experienced severe headaches since childhood. As I was praying for her healing, I was aware of God’s presence and I heard him say, “I will heal you if you just ask.” I then proceeded to argue with God, telling Him I wasn't ready... I wasn't good enough... I hadn't done enough... there were others that needed it more. I continued to pray and argue with God at the same time. Finally, I said, "Okay, that'd be great God. Heal me." The moment I consented I felt my body flood with warmth, especially in my tired, arthritic joints. It was as if hot liquid had been poured inside my body and flushed through my veins. It was a profound experience and yet no one watching would have known that something had happened. I didn't say anything to anyone for fear they’d think I was crazy. I took notice of it but just assumed it was the Holy Spirit working through me in praying for the other woman. We finished praying, spent some more time in worship, and then the conference concluded. I left feeling refreshed and closer to God, but not realizing what had happened.


I climbed out of bed the next morning without any fatigue. As I went through my normal routine, I stepped on the scale and was shocked to realize I had lost seven pounds. That is unheard of for me. I may fluctuate a few ounces from day-to-day but never seven pounds! That was the moment I really started to take notice.  A little voice (mine this time, not God’s) whispered, “You’re healed!” I had no doubt that a miracle had occurred. I finished getting ready, which is frequently the hardest part of the day with no problems. As I stood in the pew worshiping that morning, I embraced the reality that the ever-present weight of the fatigue I'd lived with for ten years was completely gone!!

Now I wake up feeling like I did ten years ago, full of energy, lighter, and with sufficient energy for the day. Freedom becomes almost impossible to imagine when living with a chronic disease. I didn’t allow myself to go there because it hurt too much to think about. Now, after more than three weeks of living my new, weight-lifted life, it’s becoming harder to remember how bad I felt and how awful it really was.

I am a new creation! I can reach my arms over my head without feeling exhausted. In fact, Aaron says I’ve started talking with my hands again. More importantly, I can dance---the thing God made me for---with the energy I had a decade ago!  In the days immediately after my healing, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the account in Matthew 9 of the woman who had just enough faith to just reach out and touch Jesus’ cloak. Jesus said to her, as I’ve heard him say to me now, “Daughter, be encouraged! Your faith has made you well.”

Who have you helped lately?? What was your motivation to help them?

by The Huneycutts at Envision Cleveland

This summer we will have had 9 week-long teams who have come to serve in various capacities throughout our city. They come from places local to Ohio, and as far as from California. People tend to sign up for short term mission trips for different reasons I am sure. But generally I would assume most have the same goal in mind: To minister and help the people they are coming to serve.

Earlier this summer as I sat in my daughter’s therapy appointment earlier this summer, and watched a man in a wheelchair struggle to press the button for the door to open automatically, I caught myself about to jump without hesitation to his aid. And then I stopped myself and watched as he slowly and patiently was able to maneuver his hands in the right direction to finally press that button…

Click here to read more on our UrbanMustardSeed blog

We have had a VERY full and productive summer so far! We have had four interns from various backgrounds and states come and serve alongside us. They have been a tremendous help and have really been a big part of getting our summer to run smooth. We are so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend time with them and get to know them, and for the blessing they have been to our site!

By the end of the summer we will have had hosted 9 week-long teams from all over the country including California and down to Florida. They have been involved in various ministries including art camps, sports camps, English classes, helping out at garden sites, renovating property, serving at The Bridge and much more. 

This summer we incorporated a new event for our weekly teams called "jump outs." The idea is to "jump out" at a designated area in our city and bring our grills and hotdogs to hand out to anyone who wants one. It is an amazing opportunity to just connect with our locals, and love on people. We have held them at local parks and in parking lots right off the main roads of areas that have a lot of foot traffic. It is amazing the conversation you can have with a stranger just by handing them a hotdog and asking them how they are doing....  

Mid-summer we were able to move our team house to our new Envision-owned duplex. It is a 3 level home where we can house our interns and teams and we are thrilled to have it finished! It was another home that was passed on to us through the Cuyahoga Land bank. The first two levels needed significant work, and we were able to convert the large attic into a third level for bunks and an additional full bath!

Finally, in the next month we will be having a major staff change as the Stumpfs who have been serving as site associates in the area of property and projects have decided to move back to Pennsylvania to be closer to family. We will miss them and are grateful for the impact they have had on our team and the city!

As of September 3rd, the Schmidts will be joining our staff in their place. Tom and Nicole and their four children will be moving here from Vermilion, Ohio where Tom has been on staff at Beulah Beach Camp for the last several years. We are thrilled to see God continue to provide and excited to have them join us here in Cleveland! 

Elton Garden:  There was a lot of activity in our garden on Elton this summer! Many new relationships were formed among the locals who are primarily refugees from Congo and Nepal, and our garden flourished producing many veggies including enormous zucchini! This garden was used to provide fresh food for many of our local international friends throughout the West side of Cleveland!

Community Center:
Anita Gardener has become a strong community partner and friend of Envision Cleveland. She has a community center called Concerned Citizens Community Center where she meets various needs of children and adults alike. 
We had a team of men from Wadsworth come up for a day to help assemble an enormous green house on her property this summer!! It will be used for growing veggies, educating the community in farming, and provide seed plants for various gardens that our site oversees every year! This is the first of 3 greenhouses we would like to see installed here in the city.

Faith Church:
We had an art camp in the evenings at Faith on week where the kids were presented with the Gospel and had the opportunity to paint their own pottery among other art projects. We saw over 20 children come to Christ that week!! Faith Church will be able to continue to follow up with these children and continued ministry.

The Bridge:  
We continue to offer English classes for immigrants and a variety of resources to help them as they settle here in the U.S.. We celebrate the fact that over 30 students were able to attend 2 different ESL camps that focused on practicing English, assimilating into culture, and were able to just have fun! This summer our short-term teams were able to participate in helping with child care there, assist in teaching English, and helping with projects. 
Two of our English students have been a part of our Refugee Impact Collaborative church and are now teaching what they have learned!

As always, thank you for your continued prayers and support!

*Please pray for Rylie as we previously mentioned in our prayer update!

*Pray for our team as our staff transitions, and for the Schmidts as their family settle in!

*Pray for our current partnerships in the city and for open doors to more partners!

*Pray for the Mt Pleasant initiative as we seek to strengthen relationships and build new ones, and that they will lead to Gospel conversations! 

*Please pray for our eyes to continually be open as a team to the leading of Jesus in our ministry! 

Our mailing address is: 
4581 Broadview Rd
Cleveland, OH  44109

Worthy to be Praised

By John Ervin (Kristina), River’s Edge Church - Fairmont, WV

(Portions of the following story comes from a Facebook post by John on June 24.)

I don’t usually share very much personal material here on Facebook, but after debating for quite some time about sharing this post, I have decided to, mainly because I want to glorify God with my story. 

Last October I found a couple of lumps on my right collarbone that concerned me a little. A couple days after I found them, the whole right side of my neck swelled up. I went to my doctor to see what was going on. A CT scan revealed several lymph nodes were inflamed. He referred me to a surgeon to excise one of the affected lymph nodes for biopsy the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. The biopsy concluded the one thing no one wants to hear - cancer.

I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A PET scan revealed cancer in the lymph nodes of my right armpit, right collarbone, bilaterally at the base of my neck, and around my heart. It also showed “activity” in the upper right quadrant of my colon. I was officially at stage two, but because of the activity in the colon, my oncologist decided to treat it as stage three to, as he said, “err on the side of caution.”

Here is the part of the story that I pray glorifies God and God alone.

Between November 21 and December 29, I had three surgical procedures. God was so faithful to comfort and strengthen me, that I never even had to fill the prescriptions for pain medications. By His wounds I am healed.

I began my first treatment of chemotherapy on January 2 and was still able to go out to dinner with my parents and family immediately afterwards. In the days to follow, I had none of the normal side effects.  By His wounds I am healed

After my fourth treatment, at the end of February, I had a second PET scan. It showed the tumors were either drastically shrunk or completely gone and the activity in my colon had completely subsided.  By His wounds I am healed

I had a total of 12 treatments, which ended on June 12. After treatments, I felt a little queasy from the weird taste it left in my mouth and nauseous, but that was it. No vomiting. No pain. No other “stomach issues.”  By His wounds I am healed

Many of you know that I became the pastor of my church on the first Sunday of December last year - just a couple of days before getting a cancer diagnosis. This may sound crazy, but I take it as a great blessing. My family, my friends, and my church have been able to witness God’s work in my life every step of the way. He has been so gracious to me. He has given me healing now and a promise to one day enjoy the ultimate healing of a glorified body in eternity with Him.  By His wounds I am healed

I had a third PET scan on June 26 and met a few days later with my oncologist, fully prepared for him to tell me that the cancer was gone. The PET scan revealed that all the tumors were gone, and there was no cancerous activity. The cancer is gone and very unlikely to return!

Since my diagnosis, I view my eventual home in heaven as the ultimate healing, knowing my body will be glorified and I will be in Jesus' presence. God has been so good to me but I know that God is worthy to be praised whether I am cancer free or am called home.

There is so much more that I can say, and want to say, but this post is long enough for now. I want you all to know that I love you. I thank those of you who knew and were praying. I thank those who will be praying for me now that you know. I am willing to share more of my story with any of you that want to talk. I also know that there are some of you who are dealing with cancer or other equally scary things right now. Please know that I am praying for you.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his wounds we are healed.      -Isaiah 53:5

Rev. Bob Wido, Coordinator of Chaplaincy Ministries, asked Chaplain Jeff Burger to share about some of the awesome work that the Lord is doing at Belmont Correctional Institution.  

Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ at Belmont Correctional Institution

by Dr. Jeffrey A. Burger, ODRC - Chaplain at Belmont Correctional Institution

With the Lord’s anointing, I have been ministering the gospel of hope to inmates for the last 33 years. In the last year, God has blessed me with a Doctor of Ministry in Formational Counseling from Ashland Theological Seminary. It took me 10 years to achieve this title, but it was well worth it.  Christ has used this knowledge and training to bring healing and deliverance to men who have been living out lies and distortions, dealing with deep wounds from childhood, and struggling with dysfunctional behaviors. Here are three summaries, written by inmates, of the ministries that occur weekly in the prison chapel setting.

1.      Ministry of Welcome and Grief Packages

Welcome and Grief Packages are used in many areas, but primarily in two specific aspects. First, they are used as an incentive to encourage participation in the church service and welcome inmates. Second, they provide comfort for those during time of loss; in that they know someone cares and is concerned for them. These care bags have two bags of candy, tracts and a copy of the Gospel of John. The packages are put together with material that has been donated. Offerings from the inmate church are sometimes also included. These offerings give the incarcerated men a chance to participate in the ministry of the church here at Belmont.  (John)

2.      Chapel Music Program

We encourage men to use their gifts for the Lord; those who want to sing and those who play musical instruments. We provide an atmosphere of worship for the men who are currently incarcerated at Belmont. We play multiple styles of worship music including hymns, contemporary worship, black gospel, a cappella, etc. We have a men's choir and a praise band who faithfully attend church and programming on a weekly basis. God has provided funds for us to purchase new instruments and equipment for the church. The Lord has also expanded our choir and sent us more musicians for our praise team. (Jeremy)

3.      Christ Centered Spiritual Formation

Spiritual Formation is both a class and a support group. The class aspect teaches about the attributes of Jesus Christ. It also helps inmates gain knowledge and wisdom about the Holy Spirit and how He operates in the earthly and heavenly realms.

This ministry also serves as a support group where men can learn about themselves. They fully discover who they were in the past; who they are now in the midst of transforming from the old man to the new man, and who they will become based on God’s design for them. These aspects of discovery allow a man to come into his fullness, as a child of God.  (Bruce)

The Great Commission carried out!

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19

It is a great feeling to baptize men who have decided to believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. I was thrilled to baptize eight men at the chapel in the last two weeks. They also were thrilled to experience the waters of baptism. All these men have repented of their sins, given their lives over to Jesus Christ, and are following Him. I do not baptize men until I see months of commitment to Christ, the chapel, the brethren, programming and church services.

I look at baptism as an outward sign of an inward belief. Compare it to a marriage ceremony. In a marriage ceremony, a couple confesses to God, the church, and to themselves that they are committed to love each other for the rest of their lives in holy wedlock. This mirrors baptism because when we get baptized we are saying that we are married to our lover, Jesus Christ, for eternity.  We confess this to the Lord, the church and to ourselves.

Kingdom Stories and Their Effect at Heartland Church

by Chris Durbin, Leader of Discipleship & Development at Heartland Church

We have been sharing lots of Kingdom Stories in services lately, and that's been a fun part of my new role. We recently had three powerful ones for Easter that blew people away! I've been reminded the last few months just how powerful stories are...and how EVERYBODY has one. We restructured our Sundays so that we have some type of story almost every week: stories from groups or classes that we can use to promote new groups/classes, service and missional living stories, salvation stories, other testimonies, and missionary updates/stories. The response has been amazing...including bigger sign-ups for almost everything we've done lately. Carving out five to ten minutes every week meant shortening the message a bit and/or cutting music down a song...but it's been worth it!

It's a challenge to find the stories and nail them down, and to convince people to share or not bail last minute, but we are tenacious. It also takes some effort to help people whittle them down, but we just decided to do it and not worry about it all being perfect. God has used them in cool ways to encourage and challenge people, and to create more of a family atmosphere where people know each other better! Something I thought I'd share that could encourage other pastors/leaders. 

Missional Living:  McDowell County, West Virginia

God moves during Date Night at Kinsman Chapel of the C&MA

“Imagine the lives that could be changed if we would practice biblical love….based on choice and not on feeling.  Imagine if we not only displayed this with our spouse but with others around us.”  Nicole Hines

Kinsman Chapel held a date night that was well attended and by a wide diversity of couples.  The couples ranged from those celebrating 61 years of marriage to newly engaged couples; couples from the church, outside the church, new to the church; friends of people of the church and those who had been estranged from the church.  The parents were ministered to and the children were included with their own event focused on God’s love for them and their family, and the importance of prayer.

The event kicked-off with prayer and then led into a testimony given by Nicole Hines of how God had helped her see that love is a choice filled with action not a feeling.  Specifically, He used 1 Corinthians 13:4-8  as an eye-opening realization for her on how God defines love.  Two years prior she and her husband were on their way to divorce but God moved in mighty ways through the ministering efforts of their church body and their marriage was saved.  As a result, Nicole and her husband are now able to collaborate with the Kinsman team to pour into the lives of other couples. 

Learning God’s definition of love ultimately brought Nicole to a place where she realized she had not been very loving and it changed how she engaged relationally with others.  As she shared her personal struggle, it presented an opportunity for all of the couples to examine the truth about love versus what they perceived it to be.  This point was further solidified as they watched a video together of a husband caring for his wife with Alzheimer’s disease and actively living out his godly love towards her, which then prompted further conversation about godly love.

The couples were then treated to a romantic dinner prepared and served by the church for them.  During this time in particular Nicole states “Relationships were beginning to be healed before our eyes as we watched the couples interact with one another over dinner.  Afterwards further relational healing continued not only among the couples themselves but also with others.  We were able to witness strained relationships even within the church get healed and people who had not attended church in some time get reconnected.  We saw a new couple to the church connect and fellowship with people within the church.  We saw couples surround a newly engaged couple and share marriage advice.” God was on the move. Kinsman says this is just the beginning of what they hope to see come of this ministry as they pray and plan toward future events.  God was present and it was obvious to them and to the couples in attendance.  He used His body, their gifts and individual testimonies to minister, just as He says He will. 

Please unite with Kinsman in prayer for Godly love in marriages, families, and relationships.  Nicole Hines is part of a leadership team that would love to give you more details about this event if you are interested in planning something similar for your own church.  Nicole can be reached at Kinsman Chapel of the C&MA at nlh243@aol.com.    


By Esther Schaeffer, International Worker to Burkina Faso

Several months ago our son David proposed to Jillian and she said “yes!” A few weeks later we received a “save the date” postcard, announcing the date of their wedding.

Burkina Faso also has a form of “save the date.” When we received David and Jillian’s announcement, I bought a big bag of salt, divided it into small measures and put them into little bags. Then I handed out these salt bags to my friends and neighbors, informing them that our son would be getting married. In Burkina it is our way of saying, “You’re invited to the wedding, save the date.”

A disturbed woman began attending one of the Bible studies I teach. She often disrupted the study and her words were incoherent. During prayer times she would get up and run out of the church. Fatigued Bible study members were ready to dismiss her. Hoping to calm her, I encouraged her to sit near me and always included her in our prayer requests.

After several weeks of this erratic behavior, she became calmer and began to remain still until the end of the study. The week I brought my salt bags, she was there. When I handed her a little bag, she was surprised and hesitated to take it. “Go on,” I said, “This is for you.”

She grasped that bag of salt as if it contained gold and lowered her head to say “thank you.” Through the rest of the Bible study she remained silent.

The following week, she listened quietly as I taught. Afterward she came up and took my hand. The other women watched, wondering what she would do next. It seems they feared she might wrestle me to the floor. But, with the other women listening in, the disturbed woman said the first coherent words I heard her say. “When you have the wedding, I want to come and help you with the cooking.”

Her sincerity brought tears to my eyes. My simple “save the date” had gotten through to her, assuring her I wanted her to be with us.

This is essentially Jesus’ invitation to humanity. He wants every one of us at His wedding feast. He loves us! He wants us to be with Him forever. In Rev. 22:17 we read, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ ” Let all who have known the pain of rejection, disappointment and loneliness, come! All are invited! The date has been set, the invitations have been sent.

But, in a very real sense, these “save the date” cards are still in our hands. We are the ones to send out the invitations, to do the inviting. When it comes to this wedding, there is no limit on the number of guests, no fear that there will not be enough space or food.

A small gesture of kindness made a big difference for a troubled woman in Burkina. It will make a difference for those the Lord brings your way as well. The date of this heavenly wedding is fast approaching. Let’s work together to get these “save the date” invitations out as soon as possible!


Andrew: aeschaeffer@gmail.com

Esther: estherschaeffer@gmail.com

Donate: We are supported thanks to your giving to Great Commission Fund at your local Alliance church. If you would like to help with ministry projects donate online at www.cmalliance.org and mark your gift “Andrew Schaeffer work special.” You can also send in your donation to: The Alliance, 8595 Explorer Drive, Colorado Springs CO, 80920.

Our ministry is part of the worldwide effort of The Alliance. Our “big team” includes over 750 people! To subscribe for regular updates about Alliance efforts, go to www.cmalliance.org/subscribe. You can also view updates on social media at www.cmalliance.org/connect.