Letter from Joseph Tkach — April 2012

Posted by colin on April 6, 2012 under Pastor General's Monthly Letter | Comments are off for this article

April 1, 2012

As Pastor General, I am often asked to cast a vision for our denomination’s future in the way a CEO might cast a vision for a business or corporation. However, I am hesitant to do that. For practical reasons, churches must embrace certain business practices, but the biblical model for leading the church is that of shepherd or farmer rather than business manager. So my approach is not so much to cast a vision, but to gather a vision.

You see, every day I receive news from the pastors of our small but truly international church. The news comes from all parts of the U.S.A. and around the world. It allows me to see how Grace Communion International is indeed participating in the work of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in their mission to bring the world the good news of forgiveness and salvation.

We are called to this same mission, as are all other followers of Jesus. This is what is often referred to as The Great Commission. We have summarized this in our denominational motto:Living and Sharing the Gospel. That is not just a catchy slogan. It encapsulates our sense of participating in what Jesus is doing in our world, through the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the Father’s mission. We can expand this into a more complete mission statement: Grace Communion International is committed to living and sharing the good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ.

Our work is not about “bringing God to people,” but rather helping people see that God is already sharing his life and love with them. It’s not about helping people “find” Jesus, but of helping them find out that the Savior has already found them and is already present and at work in their lives. Because we look at the world through eyes of faith, we are able to see the transforming presence and activity of God that others are not yet seeing. The result of this work is that lives are transformed by the gospel, one person at a time.

As our congregations seize the opportunities that God presents to them locally, they advance the overall work of the church globally. As they share their experiences, we can build up a picture of how Jesus is using us. This is Jesus’ work. He “calls the shots” – not me. This is why I say I prefer to gather a vision rather than cast one.

In the last two decades, we have changed from being a denomination where our congregations existed to support a work that originated from a central headquarters, to a network of congregations that are working under the overall umbrella of the denomination. This approach is gaining momentum in our churches, whether they are small groups, house churches or the more traditional congregation. Our vision is a faith and hope-filled glimpse of what GCI will continue to become as we pursue our mission to live and share the gospel.

You are part of this work, and I know you are interested both in the progress, and the challenges we face. Therefore, I want to share with you an extended update of what’s been taking place in our denomination. I hope hearing this news will inspire and encourage you, as it does me. It is easy to become absorbed in our own lives and personal problems. But it is exciting to take in a bigger view, which helps us remain in step with the mission and the vision we’ve been given.

So join me as I show you what is happening in some of our churches, for all kinds of people in all kinds of places.

South East Asia

Rod Matthews, our Missions Director for Southern Asia and the South Pacific, recently sent me an update on our church along the border of Thailand and Myanmar. This congregation, made up of Karen refugees from Myanmar, is probably one of the groups most isolated from the rest of the church – not because of physical distance from others but because of their unfortunate circumstances. We have about 50 in attendance, more than half being children, and they are in one of five camps along the border. Together they hold more than 100,000 Karen refugees. Most have fled the fighting with the Burmese army over the last few decades. Most have nothing to return to, even if it was safe to do so.

Many of their villages across the border in Myanmar have been burned down and/or repopulated. Most people are essentially stateless and cannot move freely within Thailand. The children know of no other way of life but living in makeshift homes of wood, bamboo and thatch, in a vast town where (in this case) 40,000 people exist in cramped conditions with dirt lanes, which are either dusty or muddy, lining the hills for miles along the road in the picturesque country north of the town of Maesot.

Rod Matthews reports: “On February 12th, South East Asian pastoral coordinator from Malaysia, Wong Mein Kong and I were able to visit the congregation in the camp. Upon arrival, we were amazed to see the large baptism pool the church members had built in preparation for four pending baptisms.

The church service was planned around the baptisms – three people from member families, and one new member. Wong Mein Kong spoke on the significance and meaning of baptism (with local pastor, Lah Shi, translating into the Karen language). After the baptisms, the celebration of this wonderful event included a communion service, and before we all took the bread and wine, I explained its significance and the joy of partaking together the elements that recognize Christ’s life-giving work to reconcile us to our Triune God and his Body of which we are now a treasured part.”

This congregation, and others like it in Asia and Africa, should encourage us to pray more earnestly for the day that these camps will no longer be needed. Only God knows how many millions around the world live in misery and fear as a result of our inability to live together in peace and harmony. I am thankful that we have been able to reach out and help some of them.



Another interesting trend we are beginning to see happen is existing congregations are contacting us and asking if they can join GCI. Tim Maguire, our National Ministry leader in South Africa, sent me this report about his visit to Namibia. He was joined by Dave Linker, a church member from our Canadian church in Abbotsford. They completed a missionary journey to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia.

A congregation in the town of Kutimo Mulilo officially joined GCI in a special worship service on Sunday, February 26. Tim and Dave spent all of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, along with members of the congregation, rebuilding the small church building – breaking down the mud walls and replacing them with concrete walls and putting on a permanent roof of corrugated iron. The pastor, Luscan, has been in communication with Tim Maguire for about 18 months. The funding to rebuild the church was provided by the GCI Canada Mission Fund. Our heartfelt thanks to the many members in Canada who contribute to this special fund. It has been amazing to see how God has used these resources to bless people on the other side of the world.

Church Planting

On the home front in the U.S.A., several congregations are working on establishing church plants.

As Pastor Dishon Mills reports: “Church planting is not for the impatient. It is a three to five year process, with long stretches where it appears that little is happening. It is often during those times that God is doing the work to make sure the plant has ‘strong roots.’ For over a year, the ROCC [Redeemed of Christ Church] has been ‘cultivating the soil’ in Randolph, MA by becoming part of the community. Our purpose was to expose people to the gospel through our behavior and actions. We are now inviting people to come to our Wednesday night Village Meeting, sharing with them the gospel message through our words and fellowship.”

We also have news of a most unusual and creative new church in New York. Mary Bacheller is a very skillful teacher of American Sign Language (ASL). She has worked for many years as a teacher of deaf and hearing-impaired people. ASL is not just “English in signs.” It is a language in its own right that makes it possible for the deaf to communicate quickly and fluently.

Mary was ordained as an elder on January 22, 2012, and is in the process of planting a church specifically for deaf people in Staten Island, NY. The church will be named “Hands for Christ Community Church.” She has already been conducting monthly Bible studies with about 15 people in attendance. In August she plans to begin “preview” services on Sundays with a target launch date for the official public opening in September. In this congregation, ASL will be the primary language with translation into spoken English for visitors. I look forward to bringing you news of this interesting new church as it develops.

Passing the Baton

Finally, but by no means least, I’d like to tell you about a groundbreaking conference recently held for some of our younger leaders in Mount Lebanon, Texas. Nearly 100 leaders and workers attended this conference.

In 2 Timothy, Paul encouraged Timothy to “Pass on what you heard from me…to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:1-2 MSG). This is what we saw in action at the GenMin conference. Several of our middle-aged leaders who attended, literally passed the baton on to another generation of young leaders, and moved into mentoring roles. In this way, their experience is not lost, while a new generation of leaders has the opportunity to build their own experience.

Our various Generations Ministries (GenMin) programs, especially the Summer Camps, are ideal “incubators” to develop the next generation of pastors. The GenMin conference shows that our denomination has an emerging young and dynamic leadership and our future looks bright. It would be foolish in this ever-changing world to be too specific about what that future will be like, especially since we know God can do bigger things than we can imagine! But whatever the situation, I know there will always be a need for men and women who have a pastor’s heart and will make the welfare of God’s people a high priority in their lives.

In Christ’s service,

Joseph Tkach

President – Grace Communion International

P.S. Preparing to celebrate Easter, we know that Jesus lives! We can see that he is at work in our ministries and positive things are happening in our congregations around the world as they respond to various challenges and opportunities. Your faithful prayers and financial support help us connect these wonderfully diverse cultures and people; identify and train emerging leaders; plant loving, nurturing congregations around the world, and share the good news of the gospel as Jesus directed his disciples to do in Matthew 28:18-20. Thank you for your continued support in this.


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