Salvation Army Red Kettles

Published on December 3, 2017

Perhaps no other sound says Christmas more than the ring of a Salvation Army bell.

The red kettle has been an American icon for over 125 years. From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, the ubiquitous buckets can be found outside thousands of storefronts in small towns and big cities across the country. They can even be found on your TV, appearing in dozens of movies.

Red kettles raise millions for Salvation Army programs that provide food, shelter, rehabilitation, disaster relief, and much more for people and families in crisis.

Indeed, red kettles are a Christmas force. But have you ever wondered who started the red kettle tradition, where, and why?

In December of 1891, Captain Joseph McFee of The Salvation Army in San Francisco, Calif., was stumped. He wanted to provide a Christmas dinner for 1,000 poor people, but had no way to pay for it.

Then, an idea. He thought back to when he was as a sailor in Liverpool, England, where on the docks of the city’s waterfront he remembered seeing a large pot into which charitable donations could be thrown.

The next day, McFee secured permission to place a brass urn at the Oakland ferry landing. Beside the pot, he placed a sign that read, “Keep the Pot Boiling.” Soon, he had all the money he needed to fund the Christmas dinner.

Two years later, McFee’s fundraising idea had expanded to 30 kettle locations on the West Coast. He’d grown the program with help from two young Salvation Army officers named William A. McIntyre and N.J. Lewis.

Soon after Christmas 1895, McIntyre and Lewis were transferred to the East Coast. They took with them the idea of a Christmas kettle.

McIntyre was stationed in Boston. During the 1897 Christmas season, he, his wife and sister set up three kettles in the heart of the city. Their effort, combined with others on the West Coast and elsewhere, resulted in 150,000 Christmas dinners for the poor, nationwide.

Red kettles spread to the Big Apple, where the New York World newspaper hailed them as “the newest and most novel device for collecting money.” The newspaper also observed, “There is a man in charge to see that contributions are not stolen.”

In 1901, kettle donations in New York City funded a massive sit-down Christmas dinner at Madison Square Garden. The meal became a tradition for many years.

The rest, as they say, is history. Captain McFee’s idea launched a tradition that has spread not only throughout the United States, but across the world. Although red kettles are not found in all of the 126 countries The Salvation Army serves in, they can still be found in such distant lands as Korea, Japan, Chile, and many European countries.

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Study: Faith-Based Groups Doing Most of the ‘Heavy Lifting’ to Fight Homelessness

Published on November 5, 2017

Sixty percent of all emergency shelter beds, considered the “safety net of all safety nets,” in 11 cities are provided through faith-based organizations. And that is but one remarkable statistic, according to new social science research report released.

Before a crowd of over 100 people at the National Press Club, professor Byron Johnson, director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, together with co-author William Wubbenhorst, unveiled Assessing the Faith-based Response to Homelessness in America: Findings from Eleven Cities, which showcases the socio-economic impact of Christian and other faith-based groups in combating the nation’s homeless epidemic.

The study’s findings reveal that faith-based organizations lead the way in addressing key causes of homelessness and are pioneering creative, long-term solutions because they are most effective as they address the “whole” person. The scholars calculated that for every one dollar in government spending, taxpayers saved $9.42, a total of $119 million in the 11 cities surveyed, as a result of the vital work faith-based groups do.

Tonier Cain, who was featured in a panel discussion, believes “it’s almost impossible to even think that somebody can get healed and do better in their life without faith.”

Cain, who lives in Annapolis, Maryland, shared parts of her harrowing story of having lived on the streets for nearly 20 years. During that time, she was arrested 83 times, convicted 66 times, and is a survivor of sexual abuse. She now leads two nonprofit groups, including a global nonprofit organization that provides services for trauma survivors.

“I’ve been in over 30 programs. Traditional, secular programs. They didn’t help. It wasn’t until I was really able to embrace faith, my relationship with Jesus, that everything changed in my life,” she said.

Cain is the subject of the award-winning film “Healing Neen.”

The 11 cities that were surveyed included Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville (Florida), Omaha, Phoenix, Portland, (Oregon), San Diego and Seattle.

Byron said that the study was done in order to bring attention “where it is not getting focus” and to “start a discussion.”

“This is a very preliminary study and we would like to do something that drills down much deeper in a lot of cities, do some systematic evaluation,” he said. “Why is it that the faith-based response is better in some cities than others and how can we improve it?”

During the panel discussion, rescue mission leaders who are on the front lines serving the most vulnerable frequently discussed the tension that sometimes occurs between government agencies willing to offer financial assistance to faith-based social service providers in exchange for the groups’ removal of all things faith-based, like Bibles. Put simply, the panelists concluded, faith-based organizations are without question the backbone of poverty relief and services to the homeless but are not willing to make such compromises.

Byron was asked why the government seems to view faith as something detrimental such that it insists that in order to receive financial backing, groups must essentially strip away the religious dimension from their operations.

“Things have changed in the country. I think most people would acknowledge that we have seen a lot of changes in the last 20 years. There’s plenty of people in the community who think their freedoms are under attack today and so there’s a sense in which people are even afraid to make a pro-family statement for fear that they might be called a bigot,” Byron explained.

But it is also a matter of to whom one speaks, he added.

“If you go to Houston and you talk to people who work in government and you ask them ‘Who is doing the heavy lifting?’ They’ll tell you ‘it’s the faith-based groups’ and they refer people [to them]. Why? Because they’ve been there for 60 years and they trust them. They’ve built these relationships but that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t tension.”

“And I think there are these misconceptions about the faith community, that they don’t play well with other groups. And I think our preliminary study shows that’s a myth. They are ready, but they are not going to give up their faith.”

Cain reiterated the short-sightedness of the idea that by spending more money on poverty programs, such problems will be solved.

“If you had given me money and given me a place without my faith, I would have used the money but it would have been for all the wrong things,” Cain stated.

But with faith in Jesus, she contended, “your mindset, your thinking changes.”

“And you start to want to do better, you strive to do better. Because now you have a purpose, you don’t just exist,” she said.

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500th Anniversary of the Reformation - Martin Luther

Published on October 14, 2017

Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 to February 18, 1546) was a German monk who began the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, becoming one of the most influential and controversial figures in Christian history. Luther called into question some of the basic tenets of Roman church, and his followers soon split to begin the Protestant tradition. His actions set in motion reform within the church. A prominent theologian, Luther’s desire for people to feel closer to God led him to translate the Bible into the language of the people, radically changing the relationship between church leaders and their followers.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, angry with Pope Leo X’s new round of indulgences to help build St. Peter’s Basilica, nailed a sheet of paper with his 95 Theses on the University of Wittenberg’s chapel door. Though Luther intended these to be discussion points, the 95 Theses laid out a devastating critique of the indulgences, good works (which sometimes involved monetary donations) that popes could grant to the people to cancel out penance for sins, as corrupting people’s faith. Luther also sent a copy to Archbishop Albert Albrecht of Mainz, calling on him to end the sale of indulgences. Aided by the printing press, copies of the 95 Theses spread throughout Germany within two weeks and throughout Europe within two months.

The Church eventually moved to stop the act of defiance. In March 1521, Luther was summoned before the Diet of Worms, a general assembly of secular authorities. Luther refused to recant his statements, demanding he be shown any scripture that would refute his position. Luther said in his defense:

“Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments (since I believe neither the Pope nor the Councils alone; it being evident that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the word of God: I can not and will not recant any thing, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do any thing against the conscience.”

There was none. On May 8, 1521, the council released the Edict of Worms, banning Luther’s writings and declaring him a “convicted heretic.” This made him a condemned and wanted man. Friends helped him hide out at the Wartburg Castle. While in seclusion, he translated the New Testament into the German language, to give ordinary people the opportunity to read God’s word.

Martin Luther died on February 18, 1546 at the age of 62 during a trip to his hometown of Eisleben.

His last words found in a note he had written, simply said: “We are beggars: this is true.”

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Hundreds in Town Turn Out to Pray for Public School Bible Club

Published on September 16, 2017

In what some call the post-Christian era in America, it’s likely many kids will never darken the door of a church.  But they will go to school every day.  And that’s what’s great about student Bible clubs.  They’re right there ministering the Word of God in the place everyone’s going to anyway.

For the last dozen years, that’s what’s been happening every year for hundreds of students at the Redbank Valley High School in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

The town is so supportive of the student Bible club, more adults than students showed up for a recent gathering outside the school to pray for the Bible club and kids as the new school year begins.

You may think separation of church and state means you can’t start a Bible club in your school. Not so, says the Redbank Bible club president.

“To start one, it’s easy because they can’t tell you ‘no’ in a public school. It’s completely constitutional,” Peyton Kirkpatrick argued. “The people who are afraid will say ‘no’ until you prove them the facts, and show them that it is constitutional. They can’t tell you ‘no’ as a public school student.”

“Any school is able to have Bible club,” said Ethan Reichard, the club’s vice president. “And I think that it’s a good thing to be able to preach God’s Word to other students, because they may not have the ability to learn about God on their own.”

The club’s public relations officer, Colin Sheffer agreed, saying, “It is absolutely legal to have a Bible club in a public school.  First Amendment rights.”

The Redbank Bible club presents God’s eternal truths, but wraps them up in ways that are fun and fresh – so even those with little or no faith still have a blast at the meetings.

“Every school should have one,” Kirkpatrick advocated. “I mean, in a hurting dark world, the light: it shines brightly.”

This night when the young and old of New Bethlehem came to pray for their school and Bible club, a large contingent of kids and adults from the nearby Brookville School District was on hand.  They came to pray, but also get advice as they attempt to make their own informal Bible group into an official school club. Redbank’s success has touched them.

Claire Haines of the Brookville Area High School Bible Club, said of Redbank, “I actually came to one of their meetings once, and I was so moved by just one meeting, that it really, really boosted my want to have a Bible club.”

Leaders of the two clubs met around a couple of picnic tables by Redbank’s football field.

“I’m very excited to have this opportunity to kind of expand not only the public Bible club influence from here, but to a neighboring district,” Redbank’s Sheffer remarked. “I think it’s exciting for all of us to get to share expertise and knowledge, and really spread the ministry.”

The main message from these students is take a leap of faith and bless your own school with a Bible club.

“I think that not only would it be a good outlet for Christians and people of all religions, but I feel like it would promote more kindness in the school because of the Christian values,” Haines suggested. “So definitely. I feel that schools would definitely benefit.”

Reichard added, “If you are truly committed to God and you want to get His Word out there and you feel like called to that, then I think it’s a really good thing to do and pass it on to other students.”

These Bible club leaders pointed out starting up and running a student Bible club ironically makes you more than just a student. You become an active disciple of Christ.  And it’s perfectly legal right inside a public school.

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9/11 Remembrance - Returning to God

Published on September 10, 2017

Immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001, prayer for our nation was heard everywhere. People from different faiths gathered in Yankee Stadium for the “Prayer for America” event. Members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol singing an impromptu “God Bless America.” Prayer gatherings were held in the Pentagon. On September 14, 2001, many religious leaders, including Billy Graham, were all invited to the National Cathedral to address our leaders and nation on a day set aside, called a “National Day of Prayer & Remembrance.”

In Dr. Graham’s remarks, he said: “We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious or political background may be. The Bible says that He is ‘the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.’”

Today, those times of prayer have almost totally faded into obscurity. Religious freedoms are coming under attack.

Franklin Graham described our nation this way:

“The Bible tells us that Christians should expect persecution. I don’t know if believers in our own country will ever experience the degree of persecution that is occurring in places such as Iran, but I do know that our religious freedoms are being seriously eroded. Christians are becoming the victims of our country’s growing intolerance and misguided zeal for pluralism. However, Christians who live boldly for Christ, even in the face of opposition, are a strong witness to a morally bankrupt society.”

Although the attacks of 911 were tremendous tragedies inflicted upon our nation — the Bible warns that a people that turns away from God carries more serious consequences (Isaiah 1:15-20).

May it be that we would be a nation that adheres to its declaration, “In God We Trust,” clinging to His promises of 2 Chronicles 7:14:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

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Labor Day

Published on September 2, 2017

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Labor Day in the United States is generally a day known for taking a break from work. For most Americans, it means family BBQs, swim time, beach time, shopping time or camping time.

Labor Day traditionally marks the end of summer (unless you live in a hot climate where it will be hot for a few more months). It also typically means back to school and back to football season.

Before we know it, Christmas will be here and 2017 will be history. How has your year measured up so far? How has your “work” for the Lord come along?

Now is as good of time as any to examine how each one of us is doing – how much are we listening to God by reading His Word? How many times have we shared the Gospel message? How are the things we do and the choices we make reflecting God’s glory and brining Him honor? Here are a few passages from Scripture that might be an encouragement to you as you move forward the last few months of the year:

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:58

Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him. John 6:27

I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. John 9:4

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men… Colossians 3:23

So, as you labor, may you find some time to simply rest in the comfort of God’s Word. It is refreshing and will satisfy each and every one who’s labor and rest is in the Lord.

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Russians Share Jesus Christ in Remote Parts of Mongolia

Published on August 27, 2017

46 Christians from neighboring Russia headed to four remote Mongolian provinces where few have heard the message of Christ’s love. Russian pastor and missionary Pavel Barsokov led the mission.

“The heart of my Lord Jesus Christ is for the lost and hurting,” Barsokov said. “I want to have the same heart.”

Barsokov has made dozens of trips to Mongolia.

“From my home in Krasnoyarsk, Russia to Ulaangom, Mongolia is about 900 miles,” Barsokov said. “It takes almost two days driving by road and it is not a easy journey.”

“We have experienced numerous challenges, many hardships as we try to bring God’s love to the remote areas of Mongolia,” he added.

Each time he comes to Mongolia, he brings with him young Russian Christians trained and equipped to serve as possible missionaries and evangelists.

“What I am attempting to do is raise a new generation of Russian believers who will have an understanding of Christ’s love for the world and the role they must play in bringing that Good News to the un-reached.”

17-year-old Alena Barsokov said she got the call to missions at a young age. This is her third visit to Mongolia.

“When I was 9-years-old I read a book about a missionary in a foreign country and since then I have had this burning desire to share God’s love with people who have never heard it before,” Alena said.

Accompanying her on the journey was Natasha Gorodnuk. This is her first trip to the Asian country. She wants to serve as a missionary to Nepal.

“Every time I think about it, my heart breaks because I know the calling on my life and I know what I’m supposed to do,” Natasha said.

For several weeks, Natasha, Alena and four-dozen other Russians partnered with Mongolian Christians to hold evangelistic camps for young people in remote regions of the country.

“We started working together with our Russian brothers and sisters several years ago to reach my people with God’s love,” said Anhaa Zaya, a Mongolian pastor. “What we are doing in partnership is vital for changing hearts and minds.”

In between playing games and enjoying other outdoor activities, camp organizers like Natasha Greschenko introduced Mongolians to Christianity. This is her tenth visit.

“These kids are the future of Mongolia,” exclaimed Greschenko as she taught the kids Bible lessons inside a ger, a traditional Mongolian dwelling place.

“They are future pastors, future church planters, and possibly future leaders of this country,” she added.

“God willing, they will carry the gospel in their hearts and impact their nation for Christ.”

To better appreciate the significance of these evangelistic camps, you have to understand the history of Christianity in Mongolia.

Shortly after the fall of communism, there were only ten believers in the entire country.  Today, 26 years later, some 60,000 believers are spread across this vast nation.

“We are in a remote western part of Mongolia and it is still one of the most un-reached places in the world,” said Michael Cherenkov.

Cherenkov is with Mission Eurasia, a group that focuses on raising the next generation of Christian leaders in countries of the former soviet union and surrounding nations. Mission Eurasia is a major co-sponsor of the evangelistic camps.

“Sometimes we think that people around the world know about Jesus, but there are places like this that haven’t been touched by the gospel and that’s why we are here, changing one life at a time,” said Cherenkov.

Lives like that of 22-year-old Buyanaa Davaasambuu. She accepted Christ while attending camp here as a little girl. Davaasambuu graduated from Bible college in May and is preparing to go on the mission field.

“This camp was foundational to knowing God’s love and preparing my heart to be a missionary,” said Davaasambuu, a Mongolian missionary.

“I try to come back every year to share my experiences of how I encountered Christ.”

For others like 16-year-old Mashbat Bassan, a Buddhist, this was the first time learning about Christianity.

“Before coming to this camp, I never heard about God,” said Baasan.

“I learned in the Bible study today that this God created the heavens and the earth, the animals and creatures of the sea. I never knew of these stories before.”

This is also Khalium Myagmardorj’s first camp experience.

“Many Mongolians don’t believe in Jesus, and before I came to the camp, I also thought I didn’t need to know anything about Him,” said Myagmardorj.

“But now my heart has changed and I’ve learned so much more about Christianity.”

In all, some one thousand young Mongolians heard the gospel, many of them for the first time.

“Millions of people around the world are going to hell because they don’t know Jesus Christ. I’m not interested in politics,” Pastor Barsokov said.

He added, “I’m interested about telling people about Jesus. Lives are in the balance and we are commanded to go and tell others about Christ’s love. This is what we are doing here in Mongolia.”

Report by CBN News

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Chicago’s ‘Reborn’ Church Transforms Inner-City Lives

Published on August 12, 2017

Roy Brown wasn’t sure what to make of the white guy in the storefront window one morning, wondering what he was doing in Garfield Park.
Brown, a former west side Chicago gang member, was already a walking miracle. Surviving the streets is one thing, but exiting gang life often entails a premature date of death.

Jamie Thompson, the guy on the other side of the plate glass, also is a local with a linebacker’s build who grew up one neighborhood east in Humboldt Park. And he is on a mission.

Brown, one of the founders of the Four Corner Hustler gang, “grew up in the streets and living the wild life,” Thompson said. “He and some others in the community started the gang to protect the neighborhood but it led them into a lot of evil things — drugs, prostitution and the like.”

Thompson’s life on the streets was much the opposite of Brown’s. The son of urban missionaries, he spent his days reaching out to people with the hope of the Gospel.

“My parents moved [to Humboldt Park] to work with a nonprofit organization that reached out to at-risk children and youth. After the Lord got a hold of my life, I thought I would just be reaching out to guys on the streets. But through the process of going to school and the Lord pulling at my heart, He helped me see that He wanted me to move in and start a church in the middle of one of the worst areas of Chicago.”

The church plant is Reborn Community Church, which has become a fixture for community transformation through the power of the Gospel, street smarts, entrepreneurial moxie and a miracle or two. Like Brown.

Thompson did not know it at the time, but that morning was a decision point for Brown. As he looked from the outside in, Brown wondered if he could trust this man. The thought that Thompson might be an undercover cop crossed Brown’s mind more than once.

“For a number of years, Roy just dropped his kid off at our after-school program. In the mornings he would see me in the church storefront praying. I always have coffee out so I can talk to people and pray. That morning Roy was going through something. He came in and we starting talking.

“Roy was watching me ever since I had moved into the neighborhood to see if I was legit. At that time, he had pulled back from the gang after spending a lot of years in jail, but he still wasn’t living a moral life. The young guys in the gang were killing off the chiefs. Roy had to leave to protect his life. He was making a living scrapping metal.”

A morning discussion and a cup of coffee began a Gospel conversation that would run a year-long course. Thompson was faithful to pursue Brown with truth.

“He went AWOL for a while, but he came back around. Through loving him and sharing the Gospel, he came to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He left the worldliness to the side and started being a responsible father to his children again.”

Obedience amid the storm

In seeking community transformation, Reborn Community Church’s labors started with the global economic collapse and an apartment building.

For areas already economically depressed like Garfield Park, the recession was devastating. Building foreclosures multiplied. Abandoned buildings tempted the hopeless to use them as vehicles of prostitution and drug use.

“With more and more buildings being abandoned, and less people investing, there became a greater need for healthy places for people to live where they were treated well by landlords,” Thompson said. “The Lord put on my heart to buy an apartment building. There was no money. I was working long hours already. Banks had closed their purse strings.

“Myself and a business partner with the same conviction began to pray about it and the Lord burdened our hearts to go ahead and buy our first property,” Thompson said. “We weren’t really sure at the beginning what He was trying to do with it. We were just obedient. My plea to the Lord was, ‘I’ll go to one bank, and if they say yes, I will know this is You.’

“We went to the bank and … against all odds they said they would give us a loan. We bought a building that foreclosed at $400,000 for $68,000. Thompson recalls working 100-hour weeks, leading the ministry of Reborn during the day and the renovation of the building at night. Within a few major punch list items of completion, Thompson found himself $20,000 short. A private investor committed the funds to complete the project.

For an entrepreneur like Thompson, success — God-ordained success — naturally breeds curiosity for the next step. A for-profit company was established and became a means to support Thompson and the church. More building restorations resulted when the first investor, and then others, saw the Reborn vision begin to materialize in restored housing. The next year, 10 apartment buildings were purchased and renovated, employing a full construction crew. The business grew to 25 properties, caring for and providing safe homes for 80 families as tenants.

“We give people a healthy place to live,” Thompson said. It also provides an environment where tenants are “loved on with the Gospel and treated well. … It also helped us financially stay alive, having the business in place.”

Thompson and Reborn now are in the process of launching an urban church planting center in a former firehouse located in the heart of the neighborhood. The newly restored firehouse will allow Reborn to host urban church planting cohorts as well as church planting residents.

“We are right in the middle of the city of Chicago. Trains, expressways, and airports provide easy access to our location and to those who want to be trained in urban ministry,” Thompson said. “We believe from here we can make the greatest impact. By impacting the community, we can impact other communities in our city and others in the nation that need urban ministries intentionally reaching the lost.

“Our ministry model is to have a church and a for-profit that work together to reach, equip and empower people to fully transform the lives of people. This isn’t just about social programs. Our programs are about leading people to Christ,” Thompson said. “It’s about building a relationship that leads to trust that gives us the chance to share our faith with people and see them saved. The good thing about evangelism connected to the body is that we have the discipleship mechanism, which is this church, built right into the process. We do not have to build bridges to a church, because we work as one entity.”

In the case of Brown, Thompson said, “Roy’s life has been transformed. He is raising his children under the Lord. What he used to do to try to destroy lives, now he is trying to build lives. He is working with me with the men’s ministry as the co-director. We are looking to him to take the whole thing over. He’s a guy who has all this leadership potential; he just needed the foundation to be right and a relationship with Christ. … Last year Roy got engaged to the mother of his children. Now we’re moving down that path with him too.”

Thompson voices excitement “about what the Lord is doing here. He seems to be burdening people with the desire to come to cities. We believe we can help them do it well. We aren’t trying to build our own thing. We want to work with the North American Mission Board and others to make it happen. If we collaborate together, together we can do it.”

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Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Gifts Make Summer Camp in the Ukraine Experiences Even More Special

Published on August 5, 2017

My first trip to the Carpathian Mountains brought back memories. As part of a Samaritan’s Purse media team covering Operation Christmas Child in Ukraine, our caravan of two miniature buses traveled up a rough gravel road outside the village of Zarichia to the Golden Generation Camp.

Named to celebrate the wonder of childhood, the camp serves children at risk as well as multiple churches across the country.

Entering the gate and seeing buildings for lodging, dining, and staff care, I remembered my own days as a kid at camp. They were so filled with adventure that when I returned home from my first camp experience as a 7-year-old I burst into tears. I wanted to go back!

Years later as a teen, camp was where I made the decision to stop being a different person at church and at school. There, I made Christ the Lord of my life like never before.

Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts are having a similar—or even greater—influence on the lives of Ukrainian boys and girls at camp.

Vladislava, 12, lives with her grandmother. Her mother lives just two miles away but her rights to care for “Vlada” have been removed because of alcoholism.

After hearing a Gospel presentation on the camp’s soccer field, Vlada received her green-and-red plastic shoebox. She lit up with joy when she opened it, hugging the teddy bear inside. Excited, she continued to explore her shoebox and discovered a calculator, notebook, and sunglasses. Next to her teddy bear, the best part was a note from 21-year-old Taylor.

“I will frame my letter,” Vlada said.

But more importantly, she added, “This inspired me to read the Bible more.” Bible reading had not been a habit for her in the past.

Vlada’s best friend Uliana, 13, also received a shoebox gift that afternoon. Her favorite item was a set of colored pencils.

Uliana lives in poverty without a father, but she trusts her Heavenly Father, whom she accepted into her heart as a child.

Misha, 11, also has a challenging home life. He is often found in the street instead of in school. But Misha accepted Christ into his heart the day he received his Operation Christmas Child shoebox.

“We learned about Adam and Eve and the fruit, and I learned that Jesus was crucified,” he said.

Vlada, Uliana, and Misha are just samples of the underprivileged children who attend this camp. Others are orphans.

Yet camp affords many of them the opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and experience the great joy of a shoebox gift packed by someone they don’t know far away.

These boys and girls will have precious camp memories, too. I hope their newfound faith and treasures will keep them from tears as they return home to difficult situations.

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Alabama Church Buys Former Strip Club to Convert to Sanctuary, Community Center

Published on July 29, 2017

A multisite church based in Alabama has recently purchased a former strip club, with the goal of converting it into a sanctuary and community center.

Refuge Church, which has campuses in Athens and Huntsville, bought the former Jimmy’s Too club located in Harvest for its Huntsville campus, which currently meets at a local elementary school.

Refuge Lead Pastor Jason Parks said that the building was chosen as the new home for the Huntsville campus due in part to its proximity to major population centers.

“The building is only 7.2 miles from Providence Elementary School, the current location of our portable Huntsville Campus,” explained Parks.

“Over 184,287 people live within a 10-mile radius of this property and it is only 1.3 miles from Sparkman High School, the third largest public high school in Alabama.”

Parks also noted that the purchase had a greater significance, saying that “Jesus is writing a story of redemption and restoration.”

“We believe He is going to use us to transform the community with the power of the Gospel. I’ve been praying for this building for almost four years. I’ve longed to see it changed into a church that will reach a community,” continued Parks.

“Earlier this year, the owner of the club gave his life to Christ and decided to shut the club down. It has been an amazing God-story!”

Jimmy’s Too’s transformation into a Christian church campus is still in its early stages. With the property purchased and floor plans completed, architects are presently working on the building’s engineered drawings, which fulfills a local requirement for renovations.

“Once we have engineered drawings we will have a better idea of the cost to renovate the building. Right now, our church members have given over $300,000 to make this transformation happen. We hope to host some fundraisers this fall to raise money,” explained Parks.

“Earlier this year, the owner of the club gave his life to Christ and decided to shut the club down. It has been an amazing God-story!”

Jimmy’s Too’s transformation into a Christian church campus is still in its early stages. With the property purchased and floor plans completed, architects are presently working on the building’s engineered drawings, which fulfills a local requirement for renovations.

“Once we have engineered drawings we will have a better idea of the cost to renovate the building. Right now, our church members have given over $300,000 to make this transformation happen. We hope to host some fundraisers this fall to raise money,” explained Parks.

“As a church, we work very hard to be good stewards of God’s money. We spend no more than 30 percent of our church budget on facilities so we can always have funds to minister and share the Gospel domestically and internationally.”

While an exact timeline has not yet been established, Refuge Church hopes to have the renovation work completed by next spring.

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