Stories are important. As we share our stories, we are like the stars that shine in the night sky. The spiritual realm of darkness is cast out as we praise our God in the heavenly realms. As those stories multiply, the light becomes brighter and penetrates the hearts of mankind. As each one shares and hears these stories, God's people become stronger and unification of the Church occurs. Multiplication has incredible potential: Every person, every church, intentionally and aggressively advancing the Kingdom of God. That's why we are asking you to share your stories. Tell us how God has moved and is moving. Let's cast out the darkness.
Contact Janie Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your story.
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.
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
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.
Pastor Dan Burd
“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.
Kingdom Stories and Their Effect 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.
Chris Durbin, Leader of Discipleship & Development at Heartland Church
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 amongst 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 email@example.com.