Letter from Joe Tkach — July 2012

Posted by colin on September 14, 2012 under Pastor General's Monthly Letter | Comments are off for this article

July 1, 2012 We at Grace Communion International are grateful for people like you. You are a vital part of what God is doing through GCI and your generosity helps make it possible for us to participate in the ongoing work of God. We know that your contributions represent a sacrifice, and we try to use them as effectively as possible.

In these uncertain economic times, it is even more important to invest resources wisely. Your donations are used to support practically every aspect of the work we do, and we graciously thank you for faithfully giving. This month I’d like to tell you about one of our most important investments – the summer camps and mission trips that we organize for children and young adults in our congregations.

By the time you read this, many of our camps will be in full swing. We have nineteen US camps this year, comprised of both traditional youth summer camps and short-term mission opportunities. These camps are designed for younger people. They have all the traditional summer camp activities, in beautiful natural settings. However, their most important characteristic is that they provide a safe and positive spiritual environment.

Perhaps you have never realized how important, and in some cases, how unusual this can be for so many young people. We who are older did not have to face the pressures that the younger generation has to cope with today. Drugs, gangs, broken homes, inadequate education resources and even in America, hunger, are features of daily life for far too many. For most of our teens, the summer camp setting is just an exciting change of routine. But there are some for whom camp is a break from tension and a glimpse of another way of life, where they find love, acceptance and encouragement. When they attend our programs, some experience, perhaps for the first time in their lives, acceptance and unconditional love. No wonder so many tell us it is a life-changing time. One of our counselors told us this story:

Luis might be one of the quietest kids I have ever met. Halfway through the camp week, Luis told me he was feeling confident to speak up because of the way he’s being affirmed by others at camp. As the week progressed, I asked Luis if he would be interested in introducing another group of campers during a big event at the end of camp. If he accepted, he would have to stand up before the entire camp (more than 300 people) with a microphone, and introduce the group to the audience. He accepted the challenge, but frankly, he was scared to the point of almost shaking. A group of us prayed over him and encouraged him with words of affirmation, “We believe in you,” and “Own the stage, Luis!” He gathered the courage to stand on the stage and introduce the group like a pro. Luis was articulate and did a fantastic job. As he walked off the stage, he was beaming with a beautiful smile and told me “I did it! I really did it!” For some of us, it may seem like a simple moment. For Luis, it was a profound accomplishment and one I believe will stay with him forever.

As they mature, young people become aware that the world in which they live faces severe problems. They want to do something about it. Their youthful idealism often finds an expression in spirituality, and many are already finding the Christian message relevant. This is where short-term mission trips come in. Mission trips offer a hands-on opportunity to meet, work with, and serve people in less privileged circumstances, both in this country and abroad. Again, it can be a life-changing experience. One young woman told us,

Surprisingly, I think what I liked most about the mission trip was that many times I was pushed out of my comfort zone and had to do things that I wouldn’t normally enjoy or be comfortable doing. This brought me closer to God because I had to rely on Him to give me the courage and strength to do those things.

One exciting trend we see is former campers and staff members returning to help in the camps year after year. One told us,

I had quite a few campers come up to me this year and say although they have come to camp many times, this year was different. They really got a better understanding of what Christ is about. It’s interesting how this happens each year, seeing the growth in the kids from year to year is inspiring to me and makes the work we do even more fulfilling, I am blessed to be a partner in this ministry. Camp this year was simply God inspired and fantastic.

Many people reading this letter will probably agree with me that as we get older, our appetite for “roughing it” in a camp environment diminishes. However, we can still take part. Because of your ongoing interest and generous contributions, we are able to help many young people who could not otherwise afford to go. It is a way we can fulfill the words of Psalm 71: “You got me when I was an unformed youth, God, and taught me everything I know. Now I’m telling the world your wonders; I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray.” (Psalm 71:17-18 – The Message Bible).

To quote my good friend and Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, Eddie Gibbs: “God has no grandchildren.” Each generation must come to him as potential sons and daughters – we can’t do it for them. So our camps and mission programs are not intended to be a “crash course in Christianity.” But our children and young adults live in worrying and turbulent times. They are looking for handholds and anchors to help them face the uncertainty. Through our Summer Camps and Mission programs we are helping them have experiences and build values that will never become outdated. Thank you for your help in making this possible.

Your brother in Christ, Joseph Tkach

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